Saturday 27 August 2022

Guest Book vs Movie: Operation Mincemeat

April, 1943: a sardine fisherman spots the corpse of a British soldier floating in the sea off the coast of Spain and sets off a train of events that would change the course of the Second World War.

Operation Mincemeat was the most successful wartime deception ever attempted, and the strangest. It hoodwinked the Nazi espionage chiefs, sent German troops hurtling in the wrong direction, and saved thousands of lives by deploying a secret agent who was different, in one crucial respect, from any spy before or since: he was dead. His mission: to convince the Germans that instead of attacking Sicily, the Allied armies planned to invade Greece.

This is the true story of the most extraordinary deception ever planned by Churchill's spies: an outrageous lie that travelled from a Whitehall basement all the way to Hitler's desk. 

There have been previous books, and a movie, about the Second World War deception plan known as “Operation Mincemeat”. In 1953, one of the operation’s planners Ewan Montagu published a book entitled “The Man Who Never Was” and in 1956 this was made into a film with the same name. Interestingly, Ewan Montagu had a cameo role in the film as an RAF officer. The latest film, released in the UK earlier this year, is based on Ben Macintyre’s 2010 book “Operation Mincemeat”.

The film follows the book fairly closely, both being an exciting narrative of a what, on the face of it, was an audacious plan that placed much reliance on chance. Because previously classified material had been released by 2010, more details were known about the operation compared to the 1950s book and film when, because of security restrictions in place at that time, many details were glossed over. In particular, the role of decrypts from the codebreakers at Bletchley Park in allowing the planners to tell whether or not the planted information had been discovered by German intelligence is described. The film is also a fitting tribute to the late actor Paul Ritter, appearing in his last film, who died before its release.

There are some differences between the book and the film. The role of the Naval Intelligence officer Ian Fleming in the detailed planning is greater in the film, and there appear to be quite a few nods to James Bond. The film shows Charles Cholmondeley travelling in the submarine that was used to deposit the dead body off the Spanish coast, whereas in reality he travelled back to London after the body had been delivered to the submarine base in Scotland. Also some of the timescales are compressed in the film. For example, the famous signal to Winston Churchill stating “Mincemeat swallowed…” was sent a month or so prior to the landings in Sicily, and not around the same time, as depicted in the film. However, the compressed timeline, and the sub-plots in the film around some of the characters’ private lives do, I feel, add to the tension. As may be expected, the book is able to go into greater detail about many of the individuals involved in the operation, in particular, the agents and diplomats active in Spain at the time. I found the book and the film to be equally exciting and would recommend both. I don’t think it matters whether the book is read or the film is watched first.

To order your copy now, just click the link: UK or US

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