Title: Warrior – The Legend of Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen
Author: Peter A. Capstick
Capstick, Peter A. (1998) and Fiona Capstick (1999). Warrior: The Legend of Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen. New York: St. Martin’s Press
- Meinertzhagen, Richard, 1878-1967.
- Great Britain. Army–Biography.
- Soldiers–Great Britain–Biography.
- Great Britain–History, Military–20th century.
Date Updated: December 8, 2017
The deception practiced for the Sicily invasion in WWII was modeled on a successful deception that had been accomplished during WWI. In 1917, the British sought to push the Turks and Germans from Palestine, by driving forces under General Edmund Allenby up from Egypt through the Gaza Strip. German defense there had become so strong that Allenby decided to plant contrived documents that would suggest that the real attack was coming further into the desert at a later date than the intended date, and that the operation through Gaza was a feint, or diversionary attack.
Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, an officer on Allenby’s staff, played a key role in the 1917 ruse de guerre. Meinertzhagen (1878-1967) was a fascinating enigma: soldier, ornithologist, spy, big-game hunter, friend of Lawrence of Arabia, gentile supporter of the Jewish state, and killer. Capstick bases much of his account on Meinertzhagen’s diaries, adding his own years of experience in Africa to help him vividly portray this British colonial officer who served in India, the Middle East, and especially British East Africa before and during WWI (and donning a uniform to fight at age 70.).
In this book, Capstick is deliberately anecdotal, adding his strong opinions in describing the “glorious adventures and cunning bravery” of a man he both admires and abhors as a pioneering influence in guerrilla warfare, military intelligence, and individual resistance to stupidity.
Meinertzhagen’s stratagem in Palestine in 1917 consisted of a small backpack that contained a notebook, a sum of money, a personal letter to a notional officer from his wife announcing the birth of a son, a codebook, and a gossipy letter suggesting that the attack had been delayed. Meinertzhagen intentionally lost the knapsack that had been bloodstained, together with other equipment, in the no-man’s land between the fronts, giving the impression it had been dropped by a wounded officer together with his rifle and gear. Then Meinertzhagen had a radio message sent in the code contained in the “lost” codebook, confirming a false date for the attack. It all worked fairly well.
The Meinertzhagen deception formed the basis for Operation Mincemeat, or “The Man Who Never Was,” planned in 1943. But by the 1940s, the deception had to be even more carefully planned than the one in 1917 in order to avoid detection.