Ben Macintyre writes really readable histories of spying in WWII. I enjoy reading them but they come along far too infrequently so this one has been sitting on my shelf for a while so I could savour the thought of reading it.
Like Agent ZigZag, Operation Mincemeat could almost be the plot of a 1950s thriller – possibly because some of the 1950s spy thriller writers were involved in it and because it started life as a short story.
Operation Mincemeat was possibly the most audacious plan of WWII. It’s aim was to deceive the German High Command into believing that the Allied attacks would come not in Sicily, the obvious location, but in Greece and possibly Sardinia. The plan they came up with was to float a body to wash up on a certain beach in Spain and with it would be a briefcase containing clues to the Allied plans. That the plan worked was down to meticulous planning, knowing the people who were likely to be involved when the body washed ashore and an enormous amount of good luck.
Macintyre describes what happened from “storyboarding” the idea, to finding a suitable body, preparing the backstory for “Major Martin”, setting the corpse loose in the water and what happened after the body washed up on the beach near Huelva.
I had heard the story before but not in such detail. And nor did I know much about the people involved in planning the Operation so it was good to find out more about them.
I particularly liked finding out about the person whose corpse became “Major Martin”, Glyndwr Michael. I found his story really sad; he had a dreadful start in life in a poverty stricken family in Wales, he had a history of depression and it is not known whether he committed suicide or died from eating bread laced with rat poison because he was starving. What a terrible way to live and die. Part of me would like to think that what Michael achieved in the guise of Major Martin gave his life meaning but it’s still a sad, pitiful way to live and die. His story haunts me and reminds me that however stretched and challenged NHS and Social Services are now at least they exist so fewer people fall through the gaps in society without any support or care.
The book reminded me that all sorts of people contributed to the war effort in order to free Europe from the repressive Nazi regime and that if Operation Mincemeat hadn’t succeeded my grandfather wouldn’t have got past Sicily before he was killed and my partner wouldn’t have been born as his father probably wouldn’t have got past Sicily either. The past is sometimes closer than you think.
I’d recommend this book to anyone with an interest in WWII, an interest in spying and as a good place to start reading history books as a chance from fiction.
I’m now going back to contemplating Double Cross as it sits in my pile of books waiting to be read. Although I wouldn’t want to hurry into reading it just yet!