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Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory [Paperback]

Ben Macintyre
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 5 2011
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF A SPY AMONG FRIENDS

Ben Macintyre’s Agent Zigzag was hailed as “rollicking, spellbinding” (New York Times), “wildly improbable but entirely true” (Entertainment Weekly), and, quite simply, “the best book ever written” (Boston Globe). In his new book, Operation Mincemeat, he tells an extraordinary story that will delight his legions of fans.

In 1943, from a windowless basement office in London, two brilliant intelligence officers conceived a plan that was both simple and complicated— Operation Mincemeat. The purpose? To deceive the Nazis into thinking that Allied forces were planning to attack southern Europe by way of Greece or Sardinia, rather than Sicily, as the Nazis had assumed, and the Allies ultimately chose.
 
Charles Cholmondeley of MI5 and the British naval intelligence officer Ewen Montagu could not have been more different. Cholmondeley was a dreamer seeking adventure. Montagu was an aristocratic, detail-oriented barrister. But together they were the perfect team and created an ingenious plan: Get a corpse, equip it with secret (but false and misleading) papers concerning the invasion, then drop it off the coast of Spain where German spies would, they hoped, take the bait. The idea was approved by British intelligence officials, including Ian Fleming (creator of James Bond). Winston Churchill believed it might ring true to the Axis and help bring victory to the Allies.

Filled with spies, double agents, rogues, fearless heroes, and one very important corpse, the story of Operation Mincemeat reads like an international thriller.

Unveiling never-before-released material, Ben Macintyre brings the reader right into the minds of intelligence officers, their moles and spies, and the German Abwehr agents who suffered the “twin frailties of wishfulness and yesmanship.” He weaves together the eccentric personalities of Cholmondeley and Montagu and their near-impossible feats into a riveting adventure that not only saved thousands of lives but paved the way for a pivotal battle in Sicily and, ultimately, Allied success in the war.

Frequently Bought Together

Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory + Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal + Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies
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Review

Praise for the U.S. edition:

"Here, finally, is the complete story with its full cast of characters (not a dull one among them), pure cathnip to fans of World War II thrillers and a lot of fun for everyone else."
Joseph Kanon, Washington Post Book World

"Brilliant and almost absurdly entertaining…The cast of characters involved in Mincemeat, as the caper was called, was extraordinary, and Macintyre tells their stories with gusto."
Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker

"OPERATION MINCEMEAT is utterly, to employ a dead word, thrilling. But to call it thus is to miss the point slightly in terms of admiring it properly….What makes OPERATION MINCEMEAT so winning, in addition to Mr. Macintyre’s meticulous research and the layers of his historical understanding, is his elegant, jaunty, and very British high style."
Dwight Garner, New York Times

"Macintyre, whose previous book chronicled the incredible exploits of Eddie Chapman, the crook turned spy known as Zigzag, excels at this sort of twisted narrative….Great fun."
Jennet Conant, New York Times Book Review

"A nearly flawless true-life picaresque…zeroes in on one of the few times in war history when excessive literary imagination, instead of hobbling a clandestine enterprise, worked beyond its authors’ wildest dream….Almost inedibly rich with literary truffles—doppelgangers, obsession, transgression, self-fashioning….It is hard to oversate how cinematic this story really was."
New Republic

"Another true WWII tale that reads like something by Ian Fleming….the fullest account yet."
Entertainment Weekly

"London Times writer-at-large Macintyre offers a solid and entertaining updating of WWII's best-known 'human intelligence' operation....[and] recounts [the] adventures and misadventures with panache."
—Publishers Weekly

"[An] edge-of-your-seat history....unveiling previously classified files and even unearthing living witnesses to the grand conspiracy."
Kirkus Reviews

"This retelling of a well-known part of World War II espionage history will appeal to military history buffs, especially those new to this particular episode, and to readers of adventure fiction, who will find it hard to put down."
Library Journal

#1 Sunday Times [London] Bestseller

Praise for the UK edition:

"A terrific book….Students of the second world war have been familiar with Mincemeat for many years, but Macintyre offers a mass of new detail, and enchanting pen portraits of the British, Spanish and German participants. His book is a rollicking read for all those who enjoy a spy story so fanciful that Ian Fleming—himself an officer in Montagu’s wartime department—would never have dared to invent it."
Max Hastings, The Sunday Times [London]

"A chillingly good book….Macintyre has taken a well-known story of wartime deception, embellished it, and shown that it was even more ingenious and even more risky than we had all supposed."
—The Spectator

"Fascinating ... The complexities and consequences of the story that Macintyre tells in OPERATION MINCEMEAT are compelling – a tribute to his impressive abilities as a sleuth (ones that we’ve witnessed in his previous books) and to his capacities as a writer. He has the instincts of a novelist rather than a historian when it comes to elision , exposition, narrative and pace, and is depiction of character is vividly alive to nuance and idiosyncrasy. Like the best novelists, he understands that all people are fundamentally individual – odd and unique to themselves – and that stereotypes exist only in bad fiction, whether on the page or on screen."
William Boyd, The Times [London]
 
"Ben Macintyre turns up trumps in this rollicking tale of a second world war mission to dupe the Germans by using a corpse bearing fictional military plans ... The cast of characters is irresistible, and Macintyre’s enthusiasm for them richly merited ... a terrific book with exceptional photographs of everybody, including the corpse. Students of the second world war have been familiar with Mincemeat for many years, but Macintyre offers a mass of new detail, and enchanting pen portraits of the British, Spanish and German participants. His book is a rollicking read for all those who enjoy a spy story so fanciful that Ian Fleming – himself an officer in Montagu’s wartime department – would never have dared to invent it."
Max Hastings, The Sunday Times [London]

"Macintyre has a journalist’s nose for a great story, and a novelist’s skill in its narration. If anything, Operation Mincemeat is even more spellbinding than his previous story of wartime espionage, Agent Zigzag, with a cast-list every bit as dotty and colourful ... Macintyre is a master of the thumbnail character sketch."
Craig Brown, ‘Book of the Week’, The Mail on Sunday

"The Times's associate editor, Ben Macintyre, also the author of the acclaimed Agent Zigzag, is fast becoming a one-man industry in these updated tales of cunning, bravery and skulduggery. With his mix of meticulous research and a good hack's eye for narrative, it is hard to think of a better guide to keep beckoning us back to that fascinating world ... In the story of the homeless Welsh vagrant, Glyndwr Michael, whose body proved so much more worthwhile in death than in life, there is enough pathos and tragedy to remind you that you're reading real life-or-death stuff, influencing the outcome of the entire war, rather than enjoying a rollicking novel, rollicking though the book often is. There's romance, and glamour, and even the splendidly named Sir Bentley Purchase, the cheerfully black-humoured coroner of St Pancras who (illegally) colluded in the procurement of the body. It's hard not to feel, sometimes, that you are reading of impossibly distant times, when men, even dead men, were real men, rather than overgrown toddlers ... The shock is not that this all happened, but that it wasn't so very long ago."
—The Observer [London]

"Ben Macintyre skilfully breathes life into the diverse cast of characters involved in the plan, imaginatively fleshing out the colourful personalities on both sides ... a diverting account of a pivotal moment in history."
—Metro

About the Author

BEN MACINTYRE is a writer-at-large for The Times of London and the bestselling author of A Spy Among Friends, Double Cross, Operation Mincemeat, Agent Zigzag, The Napoleon of Crime, and Forgotten Fatherland, among other books. Macintyre has also written and presented BBC documentaries of the wartime espionage trilogy.


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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By Robert Morris HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
His name was Glyndwr Michael. Although he probably never entertained even the remote possibility while alive, he made a major contribution to the Allies' eventual victory during World War Two after his death. More accurately, it was his corpse that was recruited for one of the most interesting "special ops" in modern military history. Much of the information about "Operation Mincemeat" remained classified for decades. As Ben Macintyre explains, "After the war, Ewen Montagu [who headed the operation] retained most of the official papers relating to Operation Mincemeat. After he died, they would put in wooden trunk, and almost forgotten. In 2007, the family gave me full access to the papers, including the official records, but also memos, letters, photographs, and a 200-page memoir written by Montagu himself."

Briefly, this was the situation in 1943. In order to disguise the impending Allied invasion of Sicily, Montagu and his colleagues at the British Admiralty (MI5), notably Charles Cholmondeley, devised a bold plan: Obtain a corpse, conceal his true identity, have him dressed as an officer, and include among his possession information that suggests that Sicily was a decoy rather than the real target. The corpse would be delivered near the coast of Spain and, tides cooperating would be washed ashore and eventually delivered to German intelligence for verification. If the Germans could be convinced, countless Allied lives would be saved and success of the invasion would be almost assured. But there were (obviously) several problems to solve to avoid raising suspicion of German forensics experts if and when they examine the uniformed corpse. Fir example,

How and where to obtain the right corpse?
How to prevent any decomposition?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
"The sea gave up the dead who were in it," -- Revelation 20:13 (NKJV)

In spy novels, genius plans come together quickly and are implemented with only a few glitches that the heroes quickly overcome. Oh, that it was that easy.

If you have never read the story about how British Intelligence fooled Hitler into shifting his forces away from Sicily before the invasion there, I can highly recommend this account, which is informed by more detailed sources than earlier versions. If you have already read extensively about the subject, you may not find enough new here to reward your time and attention.

I knew about the story from my college studies about World War II. When I realized that this book drew on many formerly secret papers about the events, I knew it was time for an enjoyable read. I wasn't disappointed.

The best parts of the book come in exploring and explaining what went wrong . . . and how the thinly disguised deception worked in spite of its flaws and errors. I don't recall a better book concerning how those who receive intelligence reports can mislead themselves into making the wrong steps. I'm reminded of the reports that eventually came out about how Stalin continually dismissed the remarkable intelligence he was receiving from British and American spies.

If you like human interest, you'll enjoy learning about the details of how such deceptions were thought up and developed. If you don't really care about the details of who did what and when, you'll think this book is too detailed in telling how the plot was hatched and executed in London and Spain.

As a true story, it has more emotional resonance than any spy thriller I've read. I had a smile on my face on most pages. I believe that you will, too.

"Oh, what a tangled web we weave
When first we practise to deceive!" -- Sir Walter Scott
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best laid plans... Sept. 29 2010
By Jill Meyer HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
often do succeed. The year 1943 was a turning point in WW2. In the European theater, the Germans were being pushed back on the Russian front and the Allies had gained back much of what they had lost in North Africa to the Axis powers. Allied leaders - both political and military - had to decide where the next military push should be. All agreed the island of Sicily - off the coast of the Italian boot - was the place to begin working on the long sought invasion of the European continent. It was considered too early, for many reason, to envision the northern France invasion that was to come in June of 1944.

The island of Sicily is often referred to as the "most invaded piece of property" in the world. I suppose it's true, because of the importance of the location Sicily holds in the middle of the Mediterranean. But if the Allies considered using Sicily as the first step on the Continent, the Germans (who were by then fighting almost alone since they thought their Italian allies almost worthless as a fighting partner) knew its value, as well. The Germans were also defending their territory in the USSR, the Causcuses, Greece, and other points in the eastern Med. Where to concentrate their troops to ward off a proposed Allied invasion?

Several British MI5 and MI6 officials, as well as those from the Army, Royal Navy, and Royal Marines, got together to concoct a plan - eventually called "Operation Mincemeat" - of dropping a dead government official off the coast of southern Spain, with all sorts of documentation which would point the Germans in the view of Greece or Sardinia as the Allied invasion area.
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