History - Operation Mincemeat

Operation Mincemeat - The Man Who Never Was

A grave in the main Huelva cemetery holds the body of a man who changed the course of the Second World War. The strange thing is, his identity is uncertain.

On 30 April 1943, a man's body was fished out of the sea off Punta Umbria by a Spanish fisherman. Identified as Major William Martin RM (Royal Marines), he was wearing a British officer's uniform (complete with photo of, and letters from, his fiancée), and was carrying top-secret plans for an Allied invasion of German-held Greece and Sardinia. The plans were passed to German intelligence, who then changed their strategy accordingly, reinforcing Greek and Sardinian defences in expectation of an attack by the Allies. Major Martin was buried in Huelva cemetery with full military honours.

But it was all an elaborate hoax by British Naval Intelligence, known as Operation Mincemeat, part of Operation Barclay, designed to cover up the invasion of Italy from North Africa. "Major Martin", who didn't exist, succeeded in fooling the Germans and diverting their attention from the real invasion target: Sicily. Extra time - and the advantage of surprise - helped the Allies to win a crucial battle on the Italian island in July 1943, opening the way for recapturing Italy, and changing the course of the war and leading to eventual victory.

The body was that of a Welsh vagrant with no family, whose cause of death was difficult to detect, although this is still contested by some; he had been pushed into the sea from a British submarine, HMS Seraph, off the Huelva coast.   Even after the war, the MOD kept the name of the dead man a secret, but then in 1996, by accident, a key document was declassified and formally identified the 'man who never was' as Glyndwr Michael, a Welshman who had killed himself with rat poison in a disused warehouse. An alternative theory claims the body was a young fit drowning casualty from HMS Dasher by the name of John Melville. Read more on the BBC archived blog and its comments.

Two of the intelligence personnel who developed all the background material for "Major Martin's" fake identity became characters in Ian Fleming's 007 novels: M and Miss Moneypenny. Worthy of a James Bond movie.

In 1956 the events were made into a film, The Man Who Never Was, ( buy from Amazon) based on the novel ( buy from Amazon) by RN Intelligence Officer Ewen Montagu, OBE, one of the men who hatched the plan. Peter Sellers plays the voice of Churchill, who was personally briefed on the plan.

The exact location of the grave is in the San Marco section of Nuestra Señora de la Soledad Cemetery in Huelva is 37°17'29.74"N 006°55'46.63"W (Open in Google Map)

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