Based on a true story, “Operation Mincemeat” narrates the elaborate deception idea that was planned by the British to mislead the Nazis. The film reminds the audience that behind the victory of the successful occupation of Sicily was a team that worked day and night to make the invasion go smoothly. While the Axis powers were confident that the Allied forces would enter through Italy, they hoped to spread misinformation that the actual plan was to enter through Greece. When the opponent is shrewd, one has to be extra careful to not make a mistake and carefully convince the lie. That was the challenge of Operation Mincemeat, and as we know from history, they sure did succeed in doing so.
Major Spoilers Ahead
Is ‘Operation Mincemeat’ Based On A True Story?
Yes, the film “Operation Mincemeat” is based on true events. The Britishers knew that the Nazis were aware that they would invade Sicily since it was the most obvious choice. They planned several strategies to direct their attention toward Greece and Sardinia. The characters mentioned in the film are British intelligence officer Charles Cholmondeley and the naval representative, Ewen Montagu, who were, in fact, the ones who played a major role in orchestrating this deception. Charles, who used to be a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force, proposed the use of the Trojan Horse method that was mentioned in the Trout memo plan. The Trout memo plan, as mentioned in the film, was a handbook for deceiving the enemy where every circumstance was compared to fly fishing. While the paper was published under the name of Rear Admiral John Godfrey, it was his personal assistant, Lieutenant Commander Ian Fleming, who contributed significantly toward creating the paper. The number 28 of the Trout memo plan was the Trojan Horse idea, demonstrating how a corpse dropped by air would carry fake documents that, when recovered by the enemy, would plant doubt and divert their interest in the direction the Britishers wanted. This plan was implemented in what was known as the Haversack Ruse, making the British officers question their use of the same technique over and over again. Charles was convinced that reusing the same technique would be the last thing that the Nazis would expect.
Ewen met Charles in the Twenty committee, a small intelligence team in charge of double agents. Since Charles’s idea involved the body washing up to the shore, the naval connection interested Ewen, and they started working on the plan together. One of the most important elements of the plan was finding the right corpse. They realized that airdropping a corpse would lead to the dismembering of the body, so they had to drop the body into the sea. They were helped by a pathologist, Sir Bernard Spilsbury, to evaluate the factors that they had to keep in mind about the body. The most important concern was that the cause of death must be such that an autopsy would not reveal the truth. Along with it, they had to also keep in mind that the deceased person must not have any relatives to claim the body. The coroner, Bentley Purchase, helped them find a body that was perfect for the cause. It was that of Glyndwr Michael, a man who suffered from mental illness and had died after consuming rat poison. The poison in his blood would remain untraceable even if an autopsy was conducted. Since Michael’s body was undernourished, they planned to identify him as a staff officer. They had only three months in hand before the body started to decompose beyond use.
Charles and Ewen fabricated a backstory for Michael, who was named Captain (Acting Major) William Martin, who belonged to the Royal Marines; he was assigned to the Combined Operations Headquarters. The reason why they chose the name Martin was that there were several officers of the same name in the Royal Navy. The corpse was dressed in battledress. His rank was supposed to be not high enough to be recognized by everyone but prominent enough to be trusted with documents. The film, “Operation Mincemeat,” correctly mentioned the pocket litters that were perfectly thought of and executed by Charles and Ewen. It consisted of the photograph of Pam (MI5 clerk Jean Leslie), a fiancé that they created to make the person seem legitimate. Along with the photograph was a love letter written by her, a receipt for an engagement ring, a letter from his father, and to confirm that he was in London, tickets were added to his pocket. The intelligence worked on finding the right waterproof ink that would be prominent even after being washed by seawater. This was a point that the then Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, thought might lead to suspicion since regular ink was supposed to be washed by water. Therefore, the waterproof ink, he thought, might create suspicion among the Nazis. He was ready to take the risk, knowing that this was an opportunity they could not let go of. The important elements included a letter from Lieutenant General Sir Archibald Nye, one who was aware of all the military operations, to General Sir Harold Alexander, commander in Algeria and Tunisia. The exchange elaborated on the idea of how the British were actually planning to enter through Greece and that the news of them invading Sicily was falsely created to divert the attention of the Axis forces.
Since they doubted whether or not the Spanish officials would go through the pockets, they kept the documents in the briefcase that was attached with a chain to his trench coat to confirm that it would under no circumstances drift away. It was also a method incorporated by jewelers and bankers to avoid their briefcases being snatched. Therefore, that would not raise any doubt. After studying the tides and waves, it was decided that the body would be dropped in Huelva, southern Spain. They chose Spain since it was neutral ground, and Huelva because of the presence of an active German agent, Adolf Clauss, who was a member of the Abwehr. The team planned to transport the body in a submarine that would help to keep it fresh and safe. Churchill gave the final nod to the plan, knowing how it had several factors that could go wrong.
The ship arrived on the coast on April 29th, 1943, and the body was successfully pushed into the water. Local Spanish fishermen found the body on April 30th and handed it to the Spanish soldiers. Even though an autopsy was conducted, it was done in a hurry, and the death certificate stating that the man died as a result of drowning was produced. Even after pressure from Adolf Clauss, the briefcase was retained by the Spanish Navy and sent to the Madrid headquarters. Karl-Erich Kühlenthal, a senior agent of the Abwehr in Spain, intervened to get hold of the briefcase, assuming to get access to confidential information. After the request, the Germans took pictures of the letters and photographs, and the copies of the documents were sent to Germany. The letters were sealed back and sent to the British officials. The documents were closely studied to decipher whether or not they were opened. The missing eyelash that they had placed in the letter was noted, and the folds indicated that the letter was opened.
How Much Of The Film Is True To The Real Event? Was The Operation Discovered By A Nazi-Hater Spy?
The plan was a success as the Germans acted on it. They shifted their focus to protecting Greece and Sardinia instead of Italy. When the Allied forces invaded Sicily, they were met with minimal resistance. Operation Mincemeat has been discussed by Ewen Montagu in “The Man Who Never Was.” “Operation Mincemeat,” the film, has been able to uphold the facts quite precisely. For dramatic emphasis, they did make certain changes, be it the fact that no Nazi hater was spying on the operation or the love triangle between Ewen Montagu, Charles Cholmondeley, and Jean Leslie. Also, in the film it is shown that Glyndwr Michael’s sister later claimed his body but in reality his body remained unclaimed.
While Ewen might have been flirtatious with Jean, there was no love triangle involved. In reality, they all worked together as professionals. The film also mentions that Montagu’s brother was a Communist sympathizer, which was indeed true, but Charles did not have any role to play in uncovering it or even spying on Ewen. To build the climax, the film introduces a Nazi-hating spy who apparently recognized Jean from a picture he received from his group. The man in the film worked at a bar and closely followed the intelligence team, whereas, in reality, nothing of the sort occurred. Films do take creative liberty to create tension and panic among the audience, especially when the ending is known by all. The Nazi-hater spy was a similar technique used.