Operation Mincemeat was the key component of a British stratagem to persuade Germany in 1943 that the Allies in North Africa were about to invade Greece and Sardinia rather than Sicily. This highly classified and successful undertaking, a wheeze thought up by the part-time thriller writers and trout fishermen who populated the British intelligence services, remained top secret for five years after the war ended. Its first exposure came in fictional form in November 1950, when Duff Cooper published a novel, Operation Heartbreak, that barely concealed the actual facts. The next version, released in 1953, was a non-fiction book by the gambit's architect, Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu of naval intelligence. Three years later, his discreet and highly redacted The Man Who Never Was became a film, in which he played a cameo role as an air-force officer who questions the wisdom of the scheme. In the meantime, Ian Colvin, a journalist whose investigation into the wartime coup had prompted Montagu to come out first with his authorised version, published The Unknown Courier. So the tale has been told before, but Ben Macintyre has done a more thorough and readable job of it than his predecessors. His access to the classified documents and unpublished autobiography that Montagu, who died in 1985, left to his son Jeremy make this the most complete account to date.
LRB 22 July 2010 | PDF Download