The Man Who Never Was

ISBN: 1-5575-0448-2
Review Date:

Full Title: The Man Who Never Was: World War II's Boldest Counterintelligence Operation

In the graveyard of the Spanish town of Huelva there lies a British subject. As he died, alone, in the foggy damp of England in the late autumn of 1942, he little thought that he would lie forever under the sunny skies of Spain after a funeral with full military honours, nor that he would, after death, render a service to the Allies that saved many hundreds of British and American lives. In life he had done little for his country; but in death he did more than most could achieve by a lifetime of service. [Book's opening paragraph]

Thus Ewen Montagu begins telling his true story as a Royal Navy intelligence officer overseeing one of the most audacious wartime misdirections imaginable - and it worked.

All Montagu and his team had to do was to procure the body of an otherwise healthy young British man who died of natural causes that were similar to death by exposure, dress him up in a Royal Marine officer's uniform as if he were a courier, plant false "Top Secret" invasion plans on the body, and then release the body from a submarine into the Atlantic so that it would wash up on the Spanish coast where Nazi agents were known to operate. All that was left was for the Germans to verify the cover story through their agents in Britain (a cover story that Montagu's team also dreamt up) and decide to move their forces to guard against an Allied invasion that never came in Greece while the real invasion landed in Sicily against weakened resistance. Nothing to it!

Besides being an extremely elaborate plan fraught with many logistical challenges, it is told in a wonderfully British writing style that makes this already exciting spy thriller almost impossible to put down. The book was first published in the US in 1953 and then re-released in 2001. The story was very faithfully recreated in the 1956 movie of the same name starring Clifton Webb as Montagu. I first read this book as a teenager and saw the film a short time later. I would recommend either or both to anyone, and especially to those with an interest in WW2 history.

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Anonymous says:
6 Jul 2011 06:11:50 AM

was the real identity of major martin ever revealed
2. Commenter identity confirmed David Stubblebine says:
17 Aug 2016 03:06:29 PM

I recently finished reading this book again and thoroughly enjoyed it once more. This time I was able to read it with a lot more knowledge of this operation and the people involved. That extra knowledge helped me better understand the author’s treatment of Charles Cholmondeley’s role in this operation. In his introductory Author’s Note, Ewen Montagu says, “The operation was carried out by a team who must, unfortunately, remain anonymous as some of them are still in Government service, therefore I have substituted a false Christian name for ‘George’s’ real one.” “George” was certainly Charles Cholmondeley and at the time this book was written (1953), his Government service was a clandestine service that required the omission of his name and photograph. Also for this reason, nearly all of Cholmondeley’s contributions to this operation were necessarily ascribed to Montagu in this book. While I still wholeheartedly recommend this book, I also recommend interested readers do some additional research into Operation Mincemeat in order to fully understand Charles Cholmondeley’s many contributions.

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