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Bill Thayer

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The Man Who Never Was

Ewen Montagu

With a foreword by Lord Ismay, G. C. B., C. H., D. S. O.

The Book and the Author

Of the two hundred or so books on historical topics on my site, fewer than a dozen were written by one of the principals in the story they tell. This is one of them.

It is an account of one of the most success­ful military deceptions ever perpetrated, daring in its conception, contributing in an important way to the winning of the Second World War, and saving the lives not only of countless soldiers on both sides, but probably of some civilians as well; and the book's author was the primary engineer of the plot, which consisted in deflecting the Germans away from Sicily, the region selected by the Allies for their first invasion of Europe in 1943 and an obvious target, by feeding their enemy misinformation such as to make them believe the major landing operation would be mostly in Greece, halfway across the Mediterranean. The means of deception? A corpse — made to wash up on the shores of ostensibly neutral Spain.

"Operation Mincemeat" was so highly unusual that the book must have written itself; it was an immediate best-seller, and within three years of its publication, an equally success­ful movie was made of it.

[image ALT: A frontal head-and‑shoulders photograph of a man with a severe and somewhat supercilious expression, wearing a naval uniform — a jacket or greatcoat with the collar up, and, set at a marked angle to his right so as almost to touch his eyebrow, a peaked cap with an elaborate embroidered design on the band. He is Ewen Montagu, author of a book, reproduced in its entirely on this site, on an Allied deception in World War II.]
The author, Ewen Edward Samuel Montagu (1901‑1985), was born to English gentry and educated at Cambridge and Harvard; by profession he was an attorney. In 1938 he joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, and soon wound up in Naval Intelligence at the Admiralty, where among his multifarious duties he hatched this bizarre plot; for his rôle in the stratagem, key to the Allied war effort, he was made a Military Member of the Order of the British Empire. After the war, he continued in the Navy, serving nearly thirty years as Judge Advocate of the Fleet.

The Man Who Never Was was published so soon after the events it recounts that they are somewhat redacted, as Montagu himself points out in the Author's Note. The main point left concealed in the book is the identity of the man whose body was used for the deception: he has since been identified as Glyndwr Michael (1909‑1943), a homeless man from Wales who died in unclear circumstances on the streets of London. Montagu himself wrote another more general book on British black ops during the war, Beyond Top Secret Ultra (1978) in which he added further details of Operation Mincemeat; and more information yet was released by the British government in 1996. All of this has made its way onto the Web in several summaries; the most detailed article online seems to be by Mark Simmer.

The identification of the body as that of Glyndwr Michael has in turn been called into question, despite the Admiralty vouching for it officially: it has been recently claimed, although frankly on tenuous grounds, that the body used in the April 1943 operation was that of one or another young sailor killed in an explosion on HMS Dasher the month before; details of this conspiracy theory and its rebuttal can be read in an articles in The Telegraph: Aug. 12, 2002 .

For technical details on how this site is laid out, see below, following the Table of Contents.

 p7  Contents

Foreword by Lord Ismay, G. C. B., C. H., D. S. O.


Author's Note


The Birth of an Idea


Preliminary Enquiries


"Operation Mincemeat"


The Vital Document


Major Martin, Royal Marines


The Creation of a Person


Major Martin Gets Ready for War


The Journey North


The Launching of the Body


Major Martin Lands in Spain


We Tidy Up in England


The German Intelligence Service Plays Its Part


The German High Command Gets Busy




Appendix I


Appendix II


 p9  Illustrations

facing page 17º

Map of the Mediterranean Sea

between pages 64‑65

The Author

Design Drawing for the Canister

Major Martin Sets Out

Parts of the Letter from General Nye to General Alexander

Major Martin's Pass to Combined Operations Headquarters

Letter from Lord Louis Mountbatten to Admiral Cunningham

"Lieber Grossadmiral!" German Translation of the Letter to Admiral Cunningham

Some of the "Corroborative Details"

between pages 96‑97


Pam's First Letter

Pam's First Letter (continued)

The Bloodhound Goes — and Comes Back

 p10  The Bill for the Engagement Ring

Father's Letter

Father's Letter (continued)

The Temporary Member's Bill and the Misdirected Letter

between pages 128‑129

Identity Card and Theatre Tickets

The Bill from Gieves that was Paid!

Major Martin Goes to War

The Journey North: the Author and Jock Horsfall

Two Folds in a Letter

German Intelligence Appreciation

Close‑up of Admiral Doenitz's Squiggle

Major Martin's Resting-place

Technical Details

Edition Used

The copy I used for this transcription is the first impression of the first American edition. It was © 1953 (Walter Louis d'Arcy Hart and Oliver Harry Frost) and published in the United States in 1954, but the copyright was not renewed in 1980‑1982 as then required by American law to maintain it, and the book has therefore been in the public domain in the United States since Jan. 1, 1983 or possibly the year before: details here on the copyright law involved. Elsewhere, the book may still be under copyright thru the end of 2055, since its author Ewen Montagu died in 1985.


In the printed edition most of the illustrations are gathered in three signatures, as listed in the Table of Illustrations above. I've moved them to appropriate places in the text; the links in the table are to those places, of course.

For citation and indexing purposes, the pagination is shown in the right margin of the text at the page turns (like at the end of this line); p57  these are also local anchors. Sticklers for total accuracy will of course find the anchor at its exact place in the sourcecode.

In addition, I've inserted a number of other local anchors: whatever links might be required to accommodate the author's own cross-references, as well as a few others for my own purposes. If in turn you have a website and would like to target a link to some specific passage of the text, please let me know: I'll be glad to insert a local anchor there as well.


As almost always, I retyped the text by hand rather than scanning it — not only to minimize errors prior to proofreading, but as an opportunity for me to become intimately familiar with the work, an exercise which I heartily recommend: Qui scribit, bis legit. (Well-meaning attempts to get me to scan text, if success­ful, would merely turn me into some kind of machine: gambit declined.)

My transcription has been minutely proofread. In the table of contents above, the sections are shown on blue backgrounds, indicating that I believe the text of them to be completely errorfree; a red background would mean that the page had not been proofread. As elsewhere onsite, the header bar at the top of each chapter's webpage will remind you with the same color scheme.

The printed book was very well proofread. One error seemed to be somewhat consequential: I footnoted it. A few others were unimportant, and I marked them with a dotted underscore like this: as elsewhere on my site, glide your cursor over the underscored words to read what was actually printed. Similarly, glide your cursor over bullets before measurements: they provide conversions to metric, e.g., 10 miles.

Some odd spellings, curious turns of phrase, etc. have been marked <!‑‑ sic  in the sourcecode, just to confirm that they were checked. They are also few.

Any over­looked mistakes, please drop me a line, of course: especially if you have a copy of the printed book in front of you.

[image ALT: A graphic of a choppy sea on which is superimposed a drawing of a person in a military uniform, wearing a military brimmed hat: but where the person should have a face, there is nothing, allowing the sea to be seen 'thru' it. The image serves as the icon on this site for the book 'The Man Who Never Was' by Ewen Montagu.]

The icon I use to indicate this subsite is a cropped and slightly modified version of the book's dust jacket.

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Site updated: 31 Jan 22