March 27th, 2019 ~ Vol. 89 No. 13
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Looking Back - John Kinnear
The Man Who Never Was
Looking Back
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Ewen Montagu's 1953 book The Man Who Never Was
Webster's defines propaganda as:"ideas, facts or allegations spread deliberately to further one's cause or to damage an opposing cause." It has always been a part of any war and pretty well every warring nation has or does re-arrange the truth for their own ends.

The propaganda and deliberate deceptions carried out during the Second World War by both the Allies and the Axis powers were second to none and make for some fascinating reading. Stories like FUSAG (First United States Army Group) come to mind. This was a mock army with mock equipment like rubber tanks and fake landing craft and barracks at Kent to make the Germans think the D-Day Landing would be a Pas-de-Calais. It was across from the Straits of Dover and the narrowest and most logical point for the invasion.

General Patton, who had been disciplined for slapping a soldier’s face, was put in charge of FUSAG and he was a man the Germans feared. Hitler focused forces on Pas-de-Calais and even a week after the Normandy invasion had happened he still held forces back to defend against FUSAG.

Another successful subterfuge was called Operation Titanic and involved parachuting 10 SAS (elite Special Air Service soldiers) and 500 dummies, called Ruperts, inland from Omaha Beach. The Ruperts had incendiary devices to burn up their fake evidence but the 10 SAS had fireworks and gramophone recordings of gunfire to an inland battle. Thousands of German soldiers were diverted inland away from Omaha which probably saved a lot of American lives during that terribly brutal landing.
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My favourite and probably the most famous and important "ruses de guerre" ever carried off during the war is the story of "The Man Who Never Was". It was a long shot undertaken by the British to try and fool the German High Command into thinking that Sicily would not be their prime invasion target once the Battle of North Africa (Operation Torch) had been won. It involved an anonymous corpse carrying some false top secret letters that wound up on a Spanish beach in May of 1943.

The whole plan was hatched by Lieutenant-Commander Ewen Montagu who was part of a special British naval intelligence committee that dealt with intended operations. It was their job to review all kinds of intelligence, detect leakages that might have occurred and try to figure out any intelligent anticipation the enemy might have made about Allied intentions.

Once the Allies had landed in North Africa Montagu's group looked ahead to the logical next step which would be to attack what Churchill called:"the soft underbelly of Europe", namely the northern Mediterranean Coast. It was pretty obvious to both sides that the North African troops should be used and so a landing or landings anywhere from Southern France to Greece would be considered. Sicily was in fact the prime landing target for the Allies as the Germans had inflicted enormous losses on Allied convoys in the Mediterranean from there. It fell to Montagu's committee to find a way to convince German Intelligence and ultimately the German High Command that Sicily was not the intended landing target.
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An unprecedented plan known as "Operation Mincemeat" was devised to plant a body offshore Spain at the mouth of the Huelva River. That body was to be supposedly that of a Royal Marine Major who was carrying extremely top secret letters by seaplane to Allied command in North Africa. British naval intelligence knew of a German operative working in the Huelva area of Spain and had long suspected that the Spanish were co-operating fully with the Germans. The expectation was that once the body and documents were washed ashore there the Spanish would allow German access to them before returning them to the British Consul in Spain.

So in the fall of 1942 permission was given to use the body of a 32 year old British subject by the name of Glyndwr Michael, who is described in some sources as a: “tramp who died from eating rat poison that contained phosphorus”, for the ruse. An expert pathologist was consulted and the corpse, who ultimately would become Major Martin, Royal Marines, was put into cold storage.

Every detail imaginable was anticipated in the creation of this fictional character. He came to life as a young officer, expert in landing craft, who was recently engaged to a young English girl named Pam. Every angle of what was expected to be a severe and thorough German scrutiny of his documents was visited and covered. It took a huge amount of planning and circumvention of many official departments to minimize leaks. There were a few awkward moments the worst of which involved having to thaw out the man's feet in order to fit them with military boots. Try putting shoes on while keeping your feet and ankles stiff and at right angles and you'll see what I mean.
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On his person were placed a wallet and watch, a picture of Pam, love letters from her, ticket stubs to a local theatre, identity cards and official passes and even a letter from Lloyd's Bank notifying him of an overdraft. There was also a letter from his father strongly urging him to make out his will since he was about to marry a girl he hardly knew. (Wartime marriages were generally frowned upon).

A small black briefcase containing the top secret letters was attached to him by a security chain (around his waist and down the sleeve of his trench coat). The most important of those letters was one from General Nye, Chief of the Imperial General Staff and was addressed to General Alexander, head of the 18th Army group in North Africa. In it he discussed the probable two pronged invasion plan for Kalamata in Greece and Sardinia in Italy. General Nye suggested in the letter that Sicily be designated what is known as a "cover target" (i.e. the target to be leaked to the Germans so that they will think is can't be the real target). Confused yet? I think in football this is known as the old double reverse.

Major Martin was transported in a special dry ice container on a submarine to the drop point and on April 30, 1943 released on the ingoing tide along with a rubber dingy turned upside down for effect. The premise was that the seaplane he was on crashed into the sea and sank and his was the only body that would be recovered (hopefully).
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Montagu's group then sat back and waited and eventually he was discovered by a fisherman. Notice was given to the British Admiralty some time later by the Spanish authorities that he had been found and would be buried there. Discreet inquiries were made about a briefcase which was eventually returned to Britain where it was determined that the top secret letters had been opened and almost undetectably resealed. It took some pretty fancy forensics to determine this but one interesting fact of their fake letter was that they planted one black eyelash into that envelope that was missing when the documents were returned.

The bait had been taken and Churchill, who was in America at the time, was notified by cable with the message: " Mincemeat swallowed rod, line and sinker by the right people and from the best information they look like acting on it." German intelligence studied all the information carefully and eventually they and the high command became convinced as to their validity. This was eventually verified months later when the Allies captured the German Naval Archives in Tambach in Central Germany and copies of the letters were found.

The Germans then got busy. They moved a whole Panzer division across Europe from France to Tripoli. They laid minefields off Greece and moved many of their R. Boats (torpedo boats) from Sicily to the Aegean Sea. They fortified Western Greece, Sardinia, Corsica and part of northwest Sicily. Hitler was entirely convinced by the fake letters and recalled his favourite general, Erwin Rommel and sent him to prepare for the defense of Greece. Even two weeks after Sicily was invaded he was still sure the main invasion was to be at Kalamata.

The Allies, as we know, landed in the relatively unfortified southeast Sicily and ultimately fought their way up through Italy and onto Germany itself. Operation Mincemeat exceeded Montagu's wildest expectations and many hundreds of British, American and Canadian lives were saved by The Man Who Never Was.
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March 27th, 2019 ~ Vol. 89 No. 13
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