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Chapter 12
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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 p139  13  The German High Command Gets Busy

The information that we gleaned from the German naval archives captured at Tambach was equally revealing with regard to the reactions that "Operation Mincemeat" produced from the German High Command. The results that we gained were far beyond our wildest hopes.

Our guess as to what the Germans originally thought the Allies were going to do after Tunisia had fallen had been right, and we had even under-estimated the difficulties that we were up against. We found a copy of a message sent by the German High Command to their army in Tunisia in February of 1943. They had decided that our next operation would be in the Mediterranean, and that it would be against one of the large islands; they put the order of probability as Sicily first, with Crete second and Sardinia and Corsica following behind. So, when we were doing our planning in London we were right in thinking that, from a very early stage, the Germans would put Sicily at the  p140 head of the betting, and as our preparations grew in the western Mediterranean they would have realised that those could not be for an assault on Crete, with an un‑reduced Sicily barring the way. We had guessed right about that, but the message included the statement "from reports coming in about Anglo-American landing intentions it is apparent that the enemy is practising deception on a large scale." They were going to turn out to be accurate about that also, but had the Chiefs of Staff known how alert the Germans were for deception, I wonder whether we ever would have got permission to launch "Mincemeat"!

The documents reveal that this strategic appreciation was maintained right up to the beginning of May, 1943. And then, on the 9th May, the whole picture changed: the news of the capture of Major Martin's documents had reached the High Command.

On the 9th May an Intelligence appreciation must have reached the High Command, for we found the following document in the file just after the appreciation dated the 14th May mentioned in the last chapter:

Further to my 2144/43 dated 9.5.43, following appreciation has been made on receipt of original material:

1. A landing in the eastern and western Mediterranean on a fairly large scale is anticipated.

(a) Target of the operation in eastern Mediterranean under General Wilson is the coast near Kalamata and the stretch of coast south of Cape Araxos (both on the West  p141 coast of the Peloponnese). The reinforced 56th Infantry Division is detailed for the landing at Kalamata and the reinforced 5th Infantry Division at Cape Araxos. It is not known whether both divisions will land in force or in part only. In the first instance, a lapse of at least 2‑3 weeks would be required as the 56th Division on 9.5.43 was engaged at Enfidaville with two brigades and must first be rested and embarked. This solution, which embraces a certain delay before the landing can take place, appears to be the more probable from the way in which the letter is written. However, if the landing is to be effected by only certain units of both divisions, it could be made at any time, as one brigade of the 56th Division and 1‑2 brigades of the 5th Division are probably already available in the actual starting-area (Egypt-Libya). Code-name for the landing on the Peloponnese is "Husky." The Anglo-American General Staff has proposed a simultaneous cover operation against the Dodecanese to General Wilson. Wilson's decision thereon was not yet taken on 23.4.43.

(b) Target for the operation under General Alexander in the western Mediterranean is not mentioned. A joking reference in the letter points to Sardinia. Code-name for this operation is "Brimstone." The proposed cover target for operation "Brimstone" is Sicily.

2. Maintenance of completest secrecy over this discovery and utmost limitation of circulation of this information is essential.

On a point of detail, this document gave me great pleasure. I had already congratulated myself that the German agent in Madrid had bothered to send on a copy of the seemingly unimportant letter from Lord  p142 Louis Mountbatten to Admiral Cunningham, unlike his treatment of the equally unimportant letter to General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Eisenhower. Was it because of the hint that we thought we had failed at Dieppe? But Paragraph 1 (b) of this appreciation showed that my heavy-footed joke about sardines had gone home — "a joking reference in the letter points to Sardinia"; it was not the same letter, but that can be excused in an appreciation of this kind. The German sense of humour is a great asset.

The German Intelligence Service had swallowed the deception: now the High Command accepted this view. It may well be that we have Hitler to thank for this, for we know, from the diary of Admiral Doenitz's conferences with the Fuehrer, that by the 14th May Hitler was convinced of the genuineness of the documents, and what they foretold. For Doenitz had been sent to Italy to try to stiffen Mussolini after the North African disasters, and he reported to Hitler on his way back to his own headquarters before he himself had seen the documents; in reply to a question by Hitler as to Mussolini's views on "Anglo-American intentions," he reported that the Duce was convinced that we would attack Sicily; and here is his record of Hitler's reply:

The Fuehrer does not agree with the Duce that the most likely invasion point is Sicily. Furthermore, he believes that the discovered Anglo-Saxon order confirms the assumption  p143 that the planned attack will be directed mainly against Sardinia and the Peloponnesus.

It is clear that Hitler was completely sold on the idea that we were intending to land in Greece and, now that he had come to this conclusion, he stuck firmly to it. So much so that, on the 23rd July, nearly a fortnight after the Allied landing in Sicily, Hitler still believed that the main operation was going to be an invasion of Greece, and appointed his favourite general, General Rommel, to command the forces that were being assembled there. On the 25th July Rommel flew to Greece, whence he had to be hurriedly recalled to take over the command in Italy and rally the defence of that country after the fall of Mussolini.

But it would be unfair to put too much blame on Hitler. On the very same day that Hitler had corrected the Duce's opinion, the 14th May, the Official War Diary of the German Naval High Command recorded the fact that the General Staff of the Army had come to the definite conclusion that the documents were genuine; they concluded that the assault would be on Sardinia, but that there might be a diversionary attack on Sicily.

So, by the 14th May, 1943, the Operational Staffs, the Supreme Command and the Fuehrer himself were all convinced. "Operation Mincemeat" was completely success­ful. It remained for us to discover just what  p144 this eventually meant to the "Anglo-American" forces.

I do not know in any detail what the German Army and the Luftwaffe were doing, but that they were doing something considerable is evidenced by an order sending the 1st German Panzer Division all the way across Europe from France to establish its headquarters at Tripolis, a town in the Peloponnesus ideally situated to command resistance against landings which included Kalamata and Araxos. When one considers the enormous effort involved in a journey of this kind for a complete Panzer Division, and how it put that the force "out of the war" for the time being, one might say that that alone would have far more than repaid the effort that we put into "Operation Mincemeat," even if we had not assisted the invasion of Sicily at all.

We also found in the German records a memorandum of the fact that the German Foreign Office had been asked to warn the Turkish Government that troops and shipping were being moved to Greece, but to stress that there were no hostile intentions against Turkey.

This precaution was not surprising when we consider the extent of the German preparations, for, although, as I have said, I have no details of the Army and Luftwaffe movements and activities, they may well have been large if we judge by the German naval activity, of which we naturally found a much more detailed picture among these documents.

By the 20th May the Naval High Command had  p145 ordered​1 the laying or the completion of three new German minefields off Greece, including one off Kalamata itself. The German Admiral commanding in the Aegean was ordered to take over control of minefields that the Italians were laying off the western coast of Greece, and German coastal-defence batteries were to be set up in territory under Italian control. These were only some of the steps that were "envisaged or have already been taken" by that date as the Germans had appreciated that almost the whole coast of Greece, as well as the Greek islands, was threatened, though it was hoped that the Allied assaults might be beaten off in spite of German weakness in that area.

These instructions were completed by orders to establish R‑boat​2 bases, command stations, naval sea patrol services and other safeguards: the effort to be put in was intense.

The dividend from "Mincemeat" was growing, and that it was a dividend from "Mincemeat" alone is established by documents which show that these orders were based on Major Martin's letters (a point that would have to be concealed in the operational orders themselves for reasons of security). Another indication is given by the statement in the orders that the likelihood of a large scale Allied landing in the eastern as well as the western Mediterranean had been established in  p146 spite of the fact that "so far indications of the preparation of large numbers of landing craft have reached us only from the western Mediterranean"; in addition, it is possible for those who compare both documents — the "Mincemeat" letter and these orders — to trace the connection.

Shortly after this, in early June, a whole group of German R‑boats was sent from Sicily to the Aegean! Our dividend was indeed growing fast.

Meanwhile, things were moving in the western Mediterranean area also. I can summarise the main reaction best by reference to an order sent out on the 14th June in Hitler's name by General Keitel, Commander-in‑Chief of the Supreme Command of the German Armed Forces. These orders​3 are clearly based on the German appreciation that the use of Sicily as a "cover target" for the assault on Sardinia might involve a diversionary attack on that island (they took a similar view of our use of the Dodecanese as a cover target for the eastern Mediterranean operation: see Appendix I and the appreciation of the 14th May). The operation of that factor on the mind of German Staff is evidenced also by the location of the German defensive measures which we found in Sicily, as I have already recorded.

We also found a record of the fact that a strong Panzer force with its ancillaries and supplies for two months was sent to Corsica in June by an order issued  p147 in Hitler's name, and from now on there was a growing emphasis on the reinforcement of Sardinia and Corsica, with the north coast of Sicily coming next in priority.

On the 9th July, the day before we landed in Sicily, Keitel sent out a long appreciation which he says is that of Doenitz. This appreciation covered not only both the eastern and western Mediterranean, but also future Allied strategy based on operations in both those areas; in it he concludes that an attack on all three islands, Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily (either all together or one at a time), as well as the Greek operation, is possible. Doenitz estimates that there are enough Allied troops in the whole of North Africa to provide for both operations and then to exploit the bridgehead that the Allies may be able to form in Greece; his appreciation is that a major landing on the coast of Italy (after the capture of the Italian islands) is unlikely, as the Germans could react fast in Italy, whereas in Greece their reinforcements and supplies would necessarily be slow, and from Greece the Allies could attack the Roumanian oilfields, and the political effect of such an operation on Hungary, as well as Roumania, might be great. Finally, Doenitz's conclusion, promulgated by Keitel, is that "the western assault forces appear to be ready for an immediate attack," which could begin at any time (how right he was!), whereas "the eastern force appears still to be forming up" (how wrong he was: they in fact took part in the invasion of Sicily).

 p148  On the early morning of the 10th July our forces had landed in Sicily, but the Germans still could not believe that that was the real assault (and that the documents must have been a plant): the German High Command asked that a special look‑out should be kept by the German agents on the shores of the Straits of Gibraltar for convoys which would be going to attack Corsica and Sardinia — they presumably still thought that the landings in Sicily (although on the side of the island that they did not anticipate) were a diversion to draw attention from the main operation.

But by the 12th July even the German belief in the accuracy of the "Mincemeat" documents had begun to weaken — after all, the invasion of Sicily was obviously genuine and had been going on for two days.

We found two messages passing between the German Naval Commander-in‑Chief in Italy and the Naval High Command. In the first, the Commander-in‑Chief complains bitterly that the departure of the 1st R‑boat group (which had been sent to the Aegean for the defence of Greece) had prejudiced the defence of Sicily, as a gap had been left in the patrols, which were consequently ineffective. He stated that the shortage of small craft was "chronic" and that the departure of any more boats, as ordered, would have a serious effect both on defensive work and on escort work. The reply stated that reconnaissance reports had shown the Allies to have engaged so much in Sicily that there was  p149 little probability of landings in Greece until the Sicilian operation was over; the defence of Greece could take second place "for the time being" (was "Mincemeat" still having some influence on the High Command as well as on Hitler?), and the order for seven boats of the 11th R‑boat Flotilla to go to the Aegean was cancelled: these boats could remain under the orders of the Commander-in‑Chief, Italy.

So the immediate repercussions of "Operation Mincemeat" had finally ended — except, for the German forces still sitting idle in Greece. The survey that has been made of its results can be summarised as follows:

As regards the working out of the "Operation": we fooled those of the Spaniards who assisted the Germans; we fooled the German Intelligence Service both in Spain and in Berlin; we fooled the German Operational Staff and Supreme Command; we fooled Keitel; and, finally, we fooled Hitler himself, and kept him fooled right up to the end of July.

As regards the eastern Mediterranean: we caused immense effort to be put into the defence of Greece, with the creation of minefields, shore batteries, etc.; we caused a concentration of troops in Greece which justified the appointment by Hitler of Rommel to command them; these troops included a Panzer Division which had to be sent right across Europe; all this was completely wasted effort from the German point of  p150 view and diminished the potential defence of Sicily and of Italy.

As regards the western Mediterranean: we caused an increase in the fortification and reinforcement of Corsica and Sardinia at the expense of that of Sicily; we caused the defensive preparations in Sicily to be largely diverted from those coasts of the island where the Allies in fact landed to the coasts where they did not land; we caused the Germans to send R‑boats away from Sicily to the Aegean, thus opening a gap in their defences which "prejudiced the defence of Sicily" as well as creating a shortage of escort vessels.

All this can be traced from the contemporary documents, and I think that I can fairly claim that our dividends from the "Operation" were indeed enormous — far greater than we had anticipated in even our most sanguine moments. It is for others to assess how many British and American lives were saved by "The Man Who Never Was" during the conquest of Sicily, and what effect his exploit had on the course of the war.

The Author's Notes:

1 See Appendix I.

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2 German Motor Torpedo Boats.

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3 Appendix II.

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Page updated: 13 Dec 20