Monday, May 7, 2012

{review} operation mincemeat

Ben Macintyre Operation Mincemeat (2010) 


"The true spy story that changed the course of World War II". 

Ben Macintyre has produced an entertaining and enlightening exploration of a minor espionage project of the Second World War that had major repercussions and - probably - smoothed the path of an easier allied victory in WW2. 

I like the way he goes about this: each participant in or part of the project is explored in detail, usually in a whole chapter. The story of Mincemeat is a small one, but in Macintyre's hands we get to glimpse the big picture - how each little cog in Operation Mincemeat was vitally important to the project as a whole and how Operation Mincemeat was itself a small cog of vital significance for the invasion of Sicily (and, thus, the liberation of Europe). 

Operation Mincemeat was one of those crazy schemes that it is hard to see that anyone could take seriously: 
"The plan was born in the mind of a novelist, and took shape through a most unlikely cast of characters: a brilliant barrister, a family of undertakers, a forensic pathologist, a gold prospector, an inventor, a submarine captain, a transvestite English spy mater, a rally driver, a pretty secretary, a credulous Nazi, and a grumpy admiral who loved fly-fishing." 
Operation Mincemeat was a plan to dump a dead body at sea off the Spanish coast, on which would be found important 'secret' documents designed to mislead the Nazi high command about the site chosen for the invasion of Europe. 

There were many, many things that could go wrong: from making sure a suitable body didn't decompose too much; to inventing a life for the body involving theatre tickets and tailor's receipts; to ensuring that a sympathetic Spaniard did not return the 'top secret' papers to the Brits before the Nazi's had got hold of a copy. If Mincemeat's papers were believed, the result would be a splitting of German forces across the entire Mediterranean, rather than a concentration of forces in Italy/Sicily. Mincemeat's success could prevent a bloodbath on Sicily for the allies: "thousands of Allied soldiers were massing on the coast of North Africa, whose future depended on a ruse that had once seemed like a jolly game, but was now a matter of life and death on a massive scale." 

In practical terms, where the British 8th Army had anticipated "10,000 casualties in the first week of the invasion; just one-seventh of that number were killed or wounded." 

Macintyre does a great job in making Mincemeat come to life. Even Hitler was fooled in the end, and there is a lovely irony in that this deception was planned by a Jew. 

Rating: 8/10. Fascinating popular history. 

If you liked this: I hear that Macintyre's Agent Zigzag is good too.  

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