In one of the most audacious deception operations of World War II, Britain tricked Nazi Germany into thinking that Allied armies would invade Greece rather than Sicily. The Germans fell for the ruse, thereby saving thousands of soldiers’ lives and bringing Germany and the Axis powers one step closer to ignominious defeat.
John Madden’s competently-crafted film, Operation Mincemeat, which is now available on Netflix, fleshes out this clever plan in solid fashion.
The top-secret operation was approved by Prime Minister Winston Churchill and run by two British commanders, Ewen Montagu (Colin Firth), a Jewish lawyer in civilian life, and Charles Cholmondeley (Matthew Macfadyen), an intelligence service officer.
Ian Fleming, an intelligence operative and the future creator of the James Bond spy novel franchise, is thrown into the mix as well.
Churchill was convinced that if the Germans could be persuaded to divert men and materiel away from Sicily, the Allies could conquer Axis-held Sicily and topple Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime, which was closely aligned with Germany. As Churchill envisaged Operation Mincemeat, it would provide the Allies with the necessary momentum to remove Italy from war, thereby delivering a crushing blow to Germany.
Incredibly enough, the covert operation was built around the corpse of a British vagrant who had committed suicide. Montagu and Cholmondeley gave him a new identity, Major William Martin of the Royal Marines, and a plausible back story to convince the Germans he was the real thing.
The ingenious plot, the stuff of a thriller, almost crumbled when Martin’s sister sought to take custody of him for burial. “Your brother is going to war,” Cholmondeley said, confusing and angering the woman. “May God forgive us,” Montagu chimed in.
There was another fly in the ointment. Admiral John Godfrey (Jason Isaacs), suspecting that Montagu’s brother Ivor was a communist and a Soviet spy, almost cancelled the operation.
A satchel, filled with deceptive and misleading documents pertaining to the so-called Allied strategy to invade Greece rather than Sicily, was attached to Martin’s body when it was released from a British submarine off the coast of Spain in 1943.
Spanish fishermen from the port of Huelva retrieved the decaying corpse and loaded it on a donkey cart to be delivered to the local morgue.
In a bid to fool the Germans, British officials in Spain — a neutral power partial to Germany — demanded the return of the documents found on Martin’s body. Spanish naval officers complied with the demand, but the British suspected they already had allowed the Germans to read the documents.
The long and short of it is that the German general staff reached the erroneous conclusion that the Allies intended to launch an invasion of Greece. What a colossal miscalculation.
In what was until then the largest amphibious landing of the war, Allied troops stormed Sicily on July 10, 1943, incurring minimal casualties and meeting relatively little German resistance.
“Mincemeat was swallowed,” exalted Churchill.
“W fooled the fuhrer,” said Montagu in a reference to Adolf Hitler.
Thanks to Operation Mincemeat, Italy’s fascist regime was shaken to the core, Mussolini was dismissed from his position, and Italy withdrew from the war.