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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 11
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Man Who Never Was

by Ewen Montagu

published by J. B. Lippincott Company
Philadelphia and New York,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 13

 p123  12  The German Intelligence Service Plays Its Part

Through the end of May, through June and into July 1943 we had nothing on which to rely for our belief that we had succeeded in our plot, except for our faith in the thoroughness of the German penetration of Spain and the gullibility of the Germans. We were sure that we had succeeded in getting the documents to the Germans and that, now that we had achieved that first step, the picture presented to them was so complete and so authoritative that no Intelligence staff could fail to be certain that it had scored an epoch-making triumph.

We could picture the Intelligence chiefs rubbing their hands; they would be bound to preen themselves at the thought that the painstaking care and efficiency with which they had built up their organisation in Spain, and the liaison with important Spanish officialdom, which was Admiral Canaris's​1 special pride, had  p124 at last proved its worth. In the past that organisation must have provided Berlin with much information about ship movements through the Straits of Gibraltar as well as intelligence gained in the British Isles and America and transmitted through Madrid, but that was to be expected of any such service. Besides, it had clearly been badly at fault before the assault on North Africa, when, so far as we could judge, the Germans had been taken by surprise. Now, at last, it had scored a real triumph.

To be able to provide the Operational Staff with an exact copy from a Vice-Chief of a General Staff to the Commander of an army in the field (and such a letter as this one) was beyond the wildest hopes of any experienced Intelligence officer — a fulfilment of the daydreams of his hopeful youth. Such information as the letter contained, if acted upon efficiently by the General Staff, might avert a disaster, or might result in the infliction of a crushing defeat on the Allies at a crucial moment in the war, and thus alter the whole history of the world.

It was for this reason that I had fought so hard against the suggestions that we should play safe, that we should use this plan to plant some minor misinformation contained in documents passing between officers of junior rank. If the letters that Major Martin had carried had been of that sort, not only might the Germans not have made the effort to get copies, but even  p125 if they had, they might not have relied on them when making strategic decisions. But what Sir Archibald Nye wrote to General Alexander must be true; the Vice-Chief of the Imperial General Staff must know what the Allied plans were — he could not be himself the victim of a "cover plan" or misinformed. If the German Intelligence Service swallowed these letters as genuine, they would have to "go to town" on them — and no General Staff which got such information with its Intelligence Service's imprimatur of genuineness could fail to base its strategy upon it.

So we sat back and waited. D‑Day of "Operation Husky" came, and the assault went well. Sicily is roughly a triangle standing on its point, and the Allies landed in the early hours of the morning of the 10th July on either side of this point and advanced rapidly up the sides of the triangle as well as across the middle. There were many elements that added to the surprise which was achieved, such as the rough weather and the "moon period" which was chosen, but that surprise certainly did nothing to shake the confidence of our group that we had succeeded with "Operation Mincemeat" and contributed our bit.

As Intelligence reports and documents gradually filtered in from Sicily, that view was confirmed; there seemed to be little doubt that the Germans had switched the effort that they had put into preparing the defences of Sicily, away from the south (where we  p126 in fact landed) to the western angle of the triangle and the northern side, which would have been the danger-points if we had been making a diversionary assault during an invasion of Sardinia, or an assault after Sardinia had been captured. Not only were most of the later minefields, demolitions and defences built in the north of Sicily, but the total of defences and reinforcements in the island was less than had been expected and surprisingly deficient in the south and east. On the information that was available, it was decided officially that our part in the deception had been success­ful. The view formed by those in authority on the whole operation was summed up when Admiral Cunningham reported, "The very efficient cover plan and the deceptive routeingº of convoys played their part" in the surprise achieved — how preponderantly it was due to the former we were only to know later.

For real knowledge of the extent and degree of our success did not come until very much later — not, in fact, until some months after "V.E.‑Day."

I was quietly slogging away one morning in my stuffy and ill‑ventilated room in the bowels of the Admiralty — winding up my work, writing records of what had been done, for the guidance of those in future wars who would never have time to read them (or think them worth reading), and impatiently waiting for the date for the demobilisation of my "Group" to come round — when the telephone bell rang. It was D. D. N. I.,2  p127 and his voice was so distorted with laughter that I found it hard to understand what he was saying, though I gathered that he wanted me in his room. So I went up there and, still shaking with laughter, he pushed some documents across the table to me. I picked them up and recognised them, in spite of the fact that the first words that caught my eye on the upper one were "Lieber Grossadmiral"! They were the "Mincemeat" letters, or at least the German translations of them, finishing their long journey!

D. D. N. I. then explained the cause of his laughter. An officer was in charge of the existing sorting and translation of the German naval archives which had been captured at Tambach in Germany. He had come up to D. D. N. I.'s room that morning with a very worried face, and had asked for instructions; his report was as follows:

In the file of documents that he was examining he had discovered "these two documents": one was a copy of a most secret letter from the V. C. I. G. S. to General Alexander and (he said) it looked as if there had been a fearful breach of security, as well as probable breaches of all sorts of regulations; normally, he ought to hand copies of letters of military importance over to his opposite number in the War Office, but this affair seemed to be so "hot" and fraught with high level complications that he felt that D. N. I. might like to handle it himself on his level!

D. D. N. I. had recognised the letters and put the officer's mind at rest. There then began a search for  p128 other documents bearing on the matter, and we soon found evidence of the completeness of our triumph over the German Intelligence Service.

As we had anticipated, they had immediately recognised the vital importance to their Operational Staff of these documents, if genuine, and had wasted no time.

Their agents in Madrid must have telegraphed the contents of the documents and an account of their discovery to Berlin early in the first week of May, because we have found reference in a later document to the fact that an Intelligence appreciation of Allied intentions had been circulated by signal on the 9th May before the "original documents" had been received in Berlin.

When the German Intelligence Service in Berlin received this information, they had obviously reacted as we expected them to do, and had demanded evidence to support the authenticity of the documents, for the first written report from Madrid had been followed by a second and more detailed one; this latter indicated that still further enquiries would be made. But time was short; Berlin had clearly appreciated the importance of the information and had decided that the details given by Madrid were convincing. And they had indeed, "gone to town" on it!

The first document of importance was an Intelligence appreciation which had been attached to a translation into German of the letter from Sir Archibald Nye to  p129 General Alexander. It was dated the 14th May, 1943, and had been stamped with the "most secret" instructions: "To be circulated personally! Not through Registry!" The circulation marked on it was to the Commander-in‑Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Doenitz, and on the 15th May his Chief of Staff had initialled it and marked it with a cross, in blue pencil, to signify that Doenitz should read it himself; this the latter did, obliterating the cross in green pencil with his personal "squiggle" and the figures 18 to indicate the date when he read it on his return to his H. Q. from his visits to Mussolini and Hitler; there were also two other officers included in the circulation.

This document read as follows:​a

Subject: Captured Enemy Document on Mediterranean Operations.

Attached herewith are:

(a) Translation of the captured letter from the Imperial Staff to General Alexander.

(b) Appreciation thereof by the (German) General Staff.

The contents of further captured documents are unimportant. Exhaustive examination by 3 Skl. revealed the following:

1. The genuineness of the captured documents is above suspicion. The suggestion that they have intentionally fallen into our hands — of which the probability is slight — and the question whether the enemy is aware of the capture of the documents by us or only of their loss at sea is being  p130 followed up. It is possible that the enemy has no knowledge of the capture of the documents.

Against that it is certain that he knows that they did not reach their destination.

Whether the enemy will now alter his intended operations or will set an earlier date for their commencement must be taken into consideration, but seems unlikely.

3. Probable Date of the Operation

The matter is being treated as urgent; yet there is still time on the 23rd April to inform General Alexander by air‑courier of General Wilson's proposal to use Sicily as cover-target for the assault in the Eastern Mediterranean, wherein he is requested to reply immediately in the event of his supporting Wilson's opinion, "as we cannot postpone the matter much longer." In this case the Imperial General Staff considers altering the planning both in the Eastern and Western Mediterranean, for which there is still time.

4. Sequence of the Operations.

It is presumed that both operations will take place simultaneously, since Sicily is unsuitable as a cover-target simultaneously for both.

5. The Tobruk area comes into consideration as a starting-point for the operations in the Eastern Mediterranean. Alexandria is not considered, as in this case Sicily would have been absurd as a cover-target.

6. It is not clear whether the deception worked by the cover-target concerns only the period up to the beginning of the operations or whether in fact a cover-operation would be used as well as the actual assault.

7. It is not clear from the attached whether only the 5th and 56th Divisions will be landed in the Eastern Mediterranean  p131 (at Araxos and Kalamata). However only these two Divisions are to be reinforced for their assault. It is always possible that all assault troops and targets are included with them.

8. It should be emphasized that it is obvious from this document that big preparations are in course in the Eastern Mediterranean as well. This is important, because considerably less intelligence about preparations has reached us from this area than from Algeria, owing to their geographical situation.

The first point that strikes one is that the German Intelligence Service is already committing itself to the categorical assertion that "The genuineness of the captured documents is above suspicion," and, although they do prudently cover themselves with a reservation that they are enquiring into the possibility of a "plant" and the extent of our knowledge of the fate of the documents, they are already saying that the possibility of the first "is slight." They have also already decided that we would be "unlikely" to change our plans or hasten the date of the assault; anyone with experience of the complexity and detail involved in the planning and launching of large-scale operations would agree with that view at least!

Another point which illustrates how, when one is working a deception of this kind, one has to put oneself into the mind of the enemy and to try to assume his degree of general knowledge is the statement in Paragraph  p132 5. The Germans say that Sicily is impossible as a cover target for an operation by troops based in Alexandria — presumably because they considered the distance to be too great. Had it been our Staff who read the document, the reaction would have been different: they knew that the distance was not too great and that troops from Alexandria could be used in an assault on Sicily, as, in fact, took place.

I need not consider the rest of the document in detail, as I will deal in the next chapter with the Operational Staffs' appreciations of the documents. But this appreciation does reveal the care with which every word and implication of the V. C. I. G. S.'s letter was studied.

This document was followed by another report circulated by the German Intelligence Service which was dated the 15th May, 1943. It read as follows:

Subject: British Official Mail Washed Ashore Near Huelva

The following points were cleared up in a conversation on 10.5.43 with the official concerned, a Spanish staff officer with whom we have been in contact for many years:

1. Clutched in the hand of the corpse was an ordinary briefcase which contained the following documents:

(a) A piece of ordinary white paper containing letters addressed to General Alexander and Admiral Cunningham. This white paper bore no writing on it.

Each of the three letters was in a separate envelope with the usual form of address and directed personally  p133 to the addressee, sealed apparently with the sender's private seal (signet ring).

The seals were in perfect condition. The letters themselves, which I have had in my hands in their re‑sealed envelope, are in good condition. For reproduction purposes the Spaniards had dried them with artificial heat and then placed them in salt water for twenty-four hours, without greatly altering their condition.

(b) Also in the briefcase were the proofs of the pamphlet on the operations of the Combined Operations Command mentioned by Mountbatten in his letter of the 22nd April, as well as the photographs mentioned therein.

The proofs were in perfect condition, but the photographs were quite ruined.

2. The messenger also carried a note-case in the breast pocket of his coat with personal papers, including his military papers with photographs (according to these, he was the Major Martin referred to in Mountbatten's letter of the 22nd April), a letter to Major Martin from his fiancée and one from his father, and a London night-club bill dated the 27th April.

Major Martin therefore left London on the morning of the 28th April, the same day that the aircraft came to grief near Huelva.

The British Consul was present at the discovery and is fully informed about it. The expected suggestions by the British Consul that the documents should be handed over to him were set aside under the pretext that all articles found on the body, including all papers, must be laid before the local Spanish magistrate.

 p134  After being reproduced, all documents were returned to their original condition by the Spanish General Staff and definitely give the impression — as I was able to see for myself — that they had not been opened. They will be returned to the English to‑day through the Spanish Foreign Office.

Further enquiries are being made by the Spanish General Staff concerning the whereabouts of the pilot of the aircraft, who was presumably injured in the crash, and an interrogation of the latter about any other passengers.

From the point of view of our little group, this was a most fascinating document. It fully justified the care with which we had built up the personality of Major Martin, so that the very "reality" of that officer carried conviction as to the genuineness of the documents that he was carrying, although it does reveal how chance would render some details important and others unimportant. It also reveals how accurate we were in our belief, on which the whole operation was based, that the Germans would have complete access to anything that interested them, once it was placed in the hands of the Spanish Staff.

The first point that emerges is that, as I have already said, we need not have worried whether the attachment of the briefcase to Major Martin by a chain was plausible or not as the Germans were told that he had the briefcase clutched in his hand; so the inefficiency of the Spaniards, as well as their co‑operation with the Germans, helped us.

I do not follow the reference in Paragraph 1 (a) to a  p135 "piece of plain white paper" round the envelopes; either this was something that some Spaniard put round them to preserve them from stains or some paper from the bundle of proofs of the Combined Operations pamphlet had become misplaced; anyhow, we had not wrapped up the envelopes. Also the seals were official seals with the Royal Coat of Arms.

Then we noted that the personal papers in the wallet had been extracted and inspected, and we were glad that the letters from Pam and Major Martin's father had not been missed — that artistic effort was not wasted! Also Lord Mountbatten's letter to Admiral Cunningham is shown to have played its intended part in establishing who Major Martin was.

But this report illustrates one of the greatest difficulties that has to be faced in carrying out a deception. The deceiver can only supply his opponent with the material and has to leave that opponent to draw the deductions from it: for that reason he has to gauge both the efficiency and the intelligence with which his material will be treated. I feel that our deduction as to the intelligence of the Germans was about right, but we may have put their efficiency too high, for they made two extremely careless mistakes — both about dates.

As can be seen by a comparison of the photographs of Lord Louis Mountbatten's letter to Admiral Cunningham and the photostat of the German translation of the same document (between pages 64 and 65), the  p136 Germans were too careless to copy the date correctly. The letter was dated 21st April, but the Germans, either in copying the letter or in translating it into German, altered the date to the 22nd April.

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As it happened, that did not matter, but the other mistake was much more dangerous. There is a reference in the report to "a London night-club bill dated the 27th April"; we came to the conclusion that that must be based on a careless reading of the stubs of the theatre tickets. The invitation to the Cabaret Club was not only not a bill, but it was not dated at all. It could not have been the bill dated the 24th April for his room for several nights at the Naval and Military Club, since that did not look like a night-club bill, and surely even the Spaniards would not have mistaken the "In and Out" for a night-club! So we came to the conclusion that this error was due to a careless confusion between the stubs from the Prince of Wales' Theatre and the invitation to the Cabaret Club. That did not matter, but the mistake in the date might have been more serious.

The report decided, as we intended the Germans to believe, that Major Martin flew from England the day after he had his farewell party; but the error in the date fixed that departure as having taken place "on the morning of the 28th April, the same day that the aircraft came to grief near Huelva." Had the Germans considered the opinion of the Spanish doctor, of which  p137 at least their agent in Huelva must have been aware, as to the date of death, and linked it with this date of departure, they might have become suspicious. The Spanish doctor had, not unreasonably, put the date as several days before the body was recovered on the 30th April: the shortest time that was suggested was some five days. So, on that basis, the aircraft disaster which caused Major Martin's death must have taken place on about the 25th April.

I am not sufficient of a philosopher to work out what can be deduced from this. It could be argued that we had been lucky that no one noticed this discrepancy and that our deception ought to have been "blown." I hope it is not too egotistical to say that I do not accept that. We had provided the Spaniards and Germans with all the clues from which they could draw the deductions that we wanted. While I suppose it would be absurd to say that we were entitled to reasonably competent and intelligent co‑operation from the other side, I think we can say that we had provided the right clues and that they did draw the right deductions, even if those deductions were only reached by a canceling out of compensating errors!

Anyhow, the report shows that the Germans did deduce that Major Martin must have travelled by air and that the disaster to the aircraft took place on a date consistent both with his departure and his state when he arrived.

 p138  The next paragraph of the report also interested us. It revealed that our view of the efficiency of German-Spanish co‑operation at Huelva was fully justified. It recorded how, when the fortuitous intervention by a military unit and a naval judicial officer precluded immediate access to the documents, the efforts of the British Vice-Consul to take charge of them were "set aside" under a "pretext." We knew that we could "trust" the Spaniards!

Finally, there is the record of the fact that the envelopes, with the letters restored to them, and other papers were not returned until after the German agent had himself inspected and handled them. That he thought that the letters "gave the impression that they had not been opened" does not surprise me: they would have given me the same impression if we had not taken precautions.

So, as far as the German Intelligence Service was concerned, we had won; as far as they were concerned, one could repeat the view of the Chiefs of Staff, as regards the Spaniards, "Mincemeat Swallowed Whole." The Intelligence Service, at any rate, had accepted the whole thing as genuine. But, as I have indicated before, that would have been only a hollow victory if the German Operational Staff had failed to take the same view and had continued to go all out in preparing to meet an invasion of Sicily. But they swallowed it also, and they also "went to town."

The Author's Notes:

1 The Head of German Military Intelligence and Espionage.

[decorative delimiter]

2 Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence.

Thayer's Note:

a As can be seen from the facsimile (of the first page) of the appreciation, the transcription is not absolutely complete.

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