It’s a war story, and it’s a love story.
It’s about spies and lies, the living and the dead brought back to life, if only to pose as someone else.
All in the name of God and Country.
Operation Mincemeat, the nonfiction book by British historian Ben MacIntyre, chronicles a deception operation carried out during World War II by Great Britain’s Naval Intelligence Division to divert Nazi Germany’s attention away from the 1943 Allied invasion of Sicily. It has been made into a movie by, made and now streaming at, Netflix starring Academy Award-winning actor Colin Firth, and alongside actors Matthew MacFadyen and Kelly Macdonald.
The mission took very careful planning and a lot of luck. It relied on a ploy used in trout fishing (yep, you read that right) in which the target is diverted comes into an unexpected, tasty tidbit that it cannot refuse to contemplate. The goal is that the target swallows it: hook, line, and sinker—a term Britain’s then Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, disdained.
Until Operation Mincemeat changed his mind.
The perfect diversion—in this case, a dead body—was purported to be “Captain (Acting Major) William Martin,” of the Royal Marines and assigned to Combined Operations Headquarters. Martin held a high-enough rank in the Admiralty—is supposed to wash up on a Spanish beach carrying a personal letter from Lieutenant General Sir Archibald Nye, vice chief of the Imperial General Staff. It is addressed to General Sir Harold Alexander, commander of the Anglo-American 18th Army Group in Algeria and Tunisia under U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower. The letter divulges the mandate for an assault in Cape Araxos and Kalamata, Greece.
This fake Major Martin’s other “pocket litter” (items that verify the operative’s fake identity) includes a photo of a sweetheart and two of her love letters—really, a female MI5 clerk, Jean Leslie) as well as a letter to his father that he’d written but had yet to mail.
Where will they get the body? Whose is it?
How will it be put in the water? Will it land on the right beach?
And if so, will the Spanish police divulge Major Martin’s existence to the Nazis, as it's been suspected to do in the past?
All great questions that ratchet up the tension of this true-life story.
This isn’t the first time that this incident was recreated on celluloid. A movie was made in 1953 from a book published by one of the mission’s main operatives, Ewen Montagu, who is played by Firth in the more recent movie.
As for the movie’s love triangle?
Like the Nazis when they heard of Major Martin’s untimely demise, I’d like to believe it’s true.
Let me put it this way: sometimes fantasy is needed to make reality more interesting.
In any event, you’ll be riveted by Operation Mincemeat, both the book and the film.