Friday, November 5, 2010
The tale of Glyndwr Michael
British secret intelligence officers Ewen Montagu and Charles Cholmondeley (pronounced "Chumley") conceived a plan to fool the Germans into believing that the planned Allied invasion was actually going to take place in Greece. They arranged for a recently dead body with fictitious documents to wash ashore in Spain where authorities were sympathetic to the Nazi cause. Michael became the corpse dressed in a British military uniform and retrieved by Spanish fishermen with a briefcase full of information. Ben Macintyre tells how MI5 put this plan into action, detailing their preparations in creating an identity and trail of information that would foil efforts to discount the existence of Major Bill Martin. He covers the operation itself and the submarine commander who was tasked with putting the body in the ocean where it was bound to be discovered by those most likely to turn the information over to the Germans as well as the snags the plan ran into. And he follows up with the influence upon the German army and the allocation of so many troops to the Balkan Peninsula where they expected an invasion which arrived elsewhere to less opposition than otherwise would have been expected.
The story of "the man who never was" is surprisingly interesting. Macintyre doesn't overstate the effect of the ruse, but points out the unusual success it achieved in both drawing German troops away from Italy as well as the Eastern front against the Russians. The personal touch Cholmondeley and Montagu put into the operation to make it convincing was fascinating, and Macintyre has a way of telling a good story. There's a decent amount of detail, as any good history should have, but it's not overwhelming. And I hope Glyndwr Michael, who was rejected for military service in life for unspecified 'unfitness' and now lies under a monument in Spain bearing both his names, was pleased with his role and accomplishment in Operation Mincemeat.