Thursday, September 22, 2011

Book Review: Operation Mincemeat

Copyright © 2011, Steven E. Houchin. All rights reserved.

The subtitle of this non-fiction book draws you right in: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory. Author Ben MacIntyre doesn’t disappoint in this true tale of British intelligence operatives who came up with an ingenious scheme to deceive the Nazis.

The year is 1943. The Allies have defeated the Nazi army in North Africa and are planning their next strike at the Axis: the invasion of Italy. If successful, they hope to knock Italy out of the war and secure Allied naval dominance of the Mediterranean. But the key to victory in Italy first requires the conquest of the island of Sicily, so that its large contingent of German and Italian troops and planes aren’t left in the Allies’ rear during the campaign. An attack on Sicily was obvious. Everyone knew it, including the Germans, who were expected to massively fortify it in advance, making its invasion a costly, bloody cover

Enter a couple of screwball-thinking intelligence officers in London: Ewen Montague and Charles Cholmondeley. They came up with an audacious and risky plan to make the Germans think the Allied attack would occur in Sardinia and Greece: dress up a corpse as a high-ranking military officer, plant fake invasion documents on it, drop it in the sea, and let it float into enemy hands. Operation Mincemeat was born.

MacIntyre’s book is filled with wry humor and short biographies of the numerous characters involved as he describes in amazing detail the operation’s inception, planning, execution and aftermath. He tells of the trouble finding and preserving a suitable corpse whose body won’t be missed; the planning for how to drop a corpse at sea so that it will drift to just the right target area (in Spain) where it is sure to be noticed by Germans (but not be too obvious); and the anxiety whether the Germans will buy the ruse and reposition their forces.

Once I started reading, I couldn’t put the book down, finishing in just a couple of days. The research to uncover all the details seems to be exhaustive. The history is fascinating, and the characters colorful and believable. It even mentions the participation of a British intelligence officer named Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond.

Even though Operation Mincemeat is non-fiction, it reads like a spy thriller and is definitely worth the read.

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