Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 24 Oct 2011
Full Title: Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied
Having recently reviewed Hitler's Holy Relics, I thought moving on to Operation Mincemeat would lead me back to orthodoxy as far as WW2 history was concerned. While that thinking was not challenged, I found this title surprisingly similar to the previous in terms of excitement and adventure despite the topics were rather different.
Living in a world filled with espionage and double-crossing, British military intelligence officer Charles Cholmondeley conceived an idea to trick the Germans. With the help of colleagues such as Ewen Montagu, dressing up the corpse of a recently-deceased civilian as a Royal Marine officer carrying a briefcase containing forged documents, he hoped to plant the idea that the Allies were looking to launch simultaneous or near-simultaneous assaults at Kalamata, Greece and Sardinia, Italy while feinting at Sicily, Italy. The actual invasion plan, of course, targeted Sicily, but most of the Germans believed this piece of false intelligence to be true, and as the result troops were diverted to the wrong locations, which might had saved Allied servicemen's lives.
The author Ben Mcintyre was an excellent storyteller, leading me through every turn of the story with excitement, particularly in the critical moments after the body had came ashore in Spain and it was yet to be determined whether the briefcase containing the false documents would end up in Spaniards who were likely to share it with the Germans or the upright who would hand it right back to the British. He also sidetracked expertly to give Operation Mincemeat a sense of completion by providing the background stories of those who played a role directly or indirectly, including the German spy in Spain Adolf Clauss and his various deficiencies, British coroner Bentley Purchase who broke his professional ethics in the interest of furthering the war effort, British secretary Jean Leslie whose role as the fictitious Royal Marine Officer's fiancée might had become a bit more than fictional, and, last but not least, Montagu's brother Ivor who spied for the Soviet Union. I appreciated Mcintyre's careful analysis of the material planted on the deceased courier, criticizing, for instance, that the items on the body were too perfect and offered far too much information. Overall, his careful research not only at public archives but also at the private collection of the Montagu family really came through in the book.
I had reviewed this title in its audio book format. Narrator John Lee did a wonderful job in terms of reading speed and clarity. I also appreciated his correct pronunciation of words such as Abwehr and names such as Cholmondeley, for that it showed that he or his production time took the time to do the research for the audio book (I found that this simple and important step, surprisingly, was skipped by many other audio book productions). My only minor complaint in terms of pronunciation was his Spanish-accent English, which I found to be rather similar to his Russian-accented English. Staying on the topic of pronunciation, I found his reading of the word "lieutenant" in the older style, ie. as if the word was spelled like "leftenent", extremely enjoyable, giving me a feeling of being transported into an older bygone era.
To me, Operation Mincemeat exhibited an excellent balance between a careful chronicle of an episode in WW2 and a dramatic retelling of a tale from the dark world of military intelligence. I would highly recommend it to both WW2 enthusiasts as well as casual readers.
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Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939