The Man Who Never Was

Title:                  The Man Who Never Was

Author:                 Ewen Montagu

Montagu, Ewen (1953). The Man Who Never Was: World War II’s Boldest Counter-Intelligence Operation. London, Evans Bros

LCCN:    53036026

D810.S8 M6 1953

Date Updated:  March 8, 2017


The book tells the story how British Intelligence decided to mislead the Nazis in 1943 about where the next landing in the Mediterranean would occur. The story has been reprinted numerous times, including in the 1990s. The original story was that they waited until a young man died of pneumonia, so he would have fluid in the lungs as cause of death. The movie, The Man Who Never Was, tells this version. In fact, he was an unclaimed homeless man who died from eating rat poison

A submarine slipped his body into the sea off Spain, making it look like he was a Royal Marine officer and courier, and a victim of an offshore airplane crash. This was done near a town with a known active Nazi agent. The brief case he was carrying falsely showed that the Allies would invade Greece, not Sicily. The Nazi agent was allowed to see his papers which showed a coming landing in Greece.

The movie has King George himself meeting with the family to convince them to give over the body, missing burial with his family. In reality, the man eventually was buried with military honors in Spain. Since the original book was published, a new edition has appeared (Oxford University Press, 1996). We have learned that the first edition would never have been written had not a novel appeared in 1950 with substantially the same plot.

The new (1996) edition reveals approval by the Twenty Committee in charge of these projects (Twenty = XX = double cross). They had the body packed in dry ice, and then gave it its new identity: Captain (acting Major) William Martin, 09560, Royal marines. The notional Major Martin came complete with constructed personal history. He was a staff officer at Combined Operations Headquarters, he carried personal letters, he was overdrawn at his bank, and he had a receipt for an engagement ring to a girl, from whom he carried two love letters. He even had ticket stubs from a theater performance with dates that corresponded with the whole legend.

The documentary details of the legend would provide believability for the more important documents carried by Major Martin. The most significant was a falsified personal letter to General Harold Alexander from General Archibald Nye, vice-chief of the Imperial General Staff. The letter asked that, after Major Martin’s expertise in landing craft had been fully used, he be allowed ot come back to staff, and that he should bring some sardines, as they were rationed in Britain. The hint was planted: Sardinia.

The body was dropped off the coast of Spain on April 19, 1943, and recovered the next day by fishermen. When the Spanish authorities notified the British consul, the British insisted that the body be returned with the briefcase unopened. That aspect of the ruse was convincing, for the German agents carefully photographed the materials.

Later, the British press carried the notice of the death of Major Martin, a funeral was held in Spain, the British vice-consul erected a headstone, and the notional fiancée sent flowers.

The new introduction to the book also reveals the British monitored the progress of the deception using Ultra. In the original edition, the one who conceived the operation was “George.” Now it can be revealed that it was created by a lowly Flight-Lieutenant, Charles Cholmondeley, and carried out by the author, who later became chief judicial officer of the Royal Navy.

The deception was a success. The Nazis did move some forces away from Sicily. Even two weeks into the invasion of Sicily, the Germans still believed the main attack would be in Greece. It is a great read on how long it takes to put together a successful deception, and the great risks as well. If it had failed, the Nazis would have known for sure the invasion would be in Sicily. The benefit was Nazi forces sat in Greece waiting for an invasion that never came.

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[1]

The story of the best-known deception operation in World War II. The best-selling book and the movie on which it was based (with some license) have made this operation one of the most famous deception ploys in history. In Beyond Top Secret Ultra[2], Montagu gives the latest version of how official permission was granted to tell this story. The 1954 book is an account of the inspiration, planning, preparation, and execution of the operation codenamed Mincemeat, which most experts believe played a crucial role in deceiving the Germans prior to the Allied landings in Sicily in 1943. Here we observe the selling of a plan, the attention given to detail, the knowledge of the enemy’s psychology and thinking, the careful anticipation of a sequence of events, and the security consciousness.

Montagu, for all that, has not told everything or given all details about the use of a body carrying faked letters and documents to mislead the enemy, for security reasons or for reasons of discretion. One of these details was the availability of Ultra, which played a pivotal role in the whole scheme. He also failed to mention an incident involving the real loss of a courier, whose body was washed ashore in Spain just prior to the invasion of North Africa. See Calvin’s The Unknown Courier[3], Darling’s Sunday at Large[4], and Butler’s Mason-Mac[5] for information about this incident, which, when it was brought to the planners’ attention at the start of Mincemeat’s preparations, resulted in a cessation of action to determine whether the plan’s concept was unrealistic in view of the real, recent, and similar incident. Cruickshank in Deception in World War II[6] places Mincemeat in perspective and explains its place in the overall deception plan for Sicily worked out by A Force. German dissenters about Mincemeat’s effect on German dispositions included General Warlimont and Gert Buchheit of the Abwehr who still represent the minority opinion many years after the event. See also Mure’ s Practise to Deceive[7] for views of the British Mediterranean deception group on the operation and Wheatley’s The Deception Planners[8] for his version of who inspired the idea. In The Unknown Courier Colvin also comments on what he regarded as planning and documentation weaknesses of the operation.

Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[9]

An all-too-brief account of operation MINCEMEAT, a successful deception operation by Royal Navy intelligence to mislead German intelligence as to the exact location of the invasion of southern Europe. The deception consisted of dressing an anonymous corpse as a major in the Royal Marines, planting proper identity papers on him as well as false secret documents indicating that the invasion would occur in Greece rather than Sicily, and casting him adrift from a submarine to float to the shores of neutral Spain where it was known numerous German intelligence agents operated. The author planned and directed this operation and he provides excellent insights into deception planning, documentation, and estimation of German reactions to the acquired information.

This is a review by the Defense Intelligence School.[10]

(Subsequent editions of the book contain additional material about German reaction to this operation). Story of the classic British deception Operation Mincemeat prior to the Sicilian invasion in WWII. Illustrates exemplary intelligence planning with respect to documentation, both personal and official, and estimate of German reactions. An excellent example of applied cover and deception.

[1] Constantinides, George C. (1983). Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 336-337

[2] Montagu, Ewen (1977, 1978). Beyond Top Secret Ultra. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan

[3] Colvin, Ian (1953). The Unknown Courier. London: William Kimber

[4] Darling, Donald (1977). Sunday at Large: Assignments of A Secret Agent. London: William Kimber

[5] Butler, Ewan (1972). Mason-Mac: The Life of Lt. General Sir Noel Mason-Macfarlane. London: Macmillan

[6] Cruickshank, Charles G. (1979). Deception in World War II. New York: Oxford University Press

[7] Mure, David (1977). Practise to Deceive. London: William Kimber

[8] Wheatley, Dennis (1980). The Deception Planners: My Secret War. London: Hutchinson

[9] Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., pp. 222-223

[10] Defense Intelligence School (1981). Bibliography of Intelligence Literature: A Critical And Annotated Bibliography of Open-Source Literature (7th ed, rev.). Washington, DC: Defense Intelligence School, p. 45


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10 Responses to The Man Who Never Was

  1. Pingback: Deathly Deception | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

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  6. Pingback: Double-Cross System | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

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