James Bond’s creator used a dead man to trick Hitler in Operation Mincemeat

The Allied effort to finally defeat Hitler was massive, involving soldiers, sailors, airmen, factory workers and many other people in a wide range of occupations.

But perhaps the strangest operation of World War 2 was dreamed up by a novelist.

Ian Fleming, long before he became famous as the creator of super-spy James Bond, worked as assistant to the director of Naval Intelligence, Admiral Sir John Godfrey (who was the inspiration for Bond’s boss M).

In 1943, with the massive Allied invasion of Sicily poised to strike at what Churchill called the “soft underbelly” of Hitler’s Europe, the German defenders needed to be lured elsewhere to prevent a bloodbath on the beaches.

And back in 1939, Fleming had dreamed up a secret plan as wild as the plot of any of his novels that would distract the Nazis from the obvious target.

In fact, the original idea was pinched from a 1937 detective novel by Basil Thomson, The Milliner’s Hat Mystery.

In a list of ideas for baffling the German High Command, Fleming wrote: “A suggestion (not a very nice one).

“A corpse, dressed as an airman, with despatches in his pockets, could be dropped on the coast.”

The fake despatches would contain misinformation to convince Hitler’s henchmen that the strike would come not in the obvious place of Sicily, but in Greece and Sardinia.

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From Fleming’s “not very nice” idea Ewen Montagu of Naval Intelligence, a barrister in civilian life, and the RAF’s Charles Cholmondeley, created Operation Mincemeat, an operation so bold, and so strange, it’s inspired two major feature films.

Many of the details of the plan were only declassified in 1996.

Among them, the name of the unlucky man whose body was used as the centrepiece of Montagu and Cholmondeley’s deception.

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Glyndwr Michael was a lonely drifter who who had ended up living rough in London.

Michael was the son of a Welsh miner. His father fatally stabbed himself in the throat when Michael was just 10 years old, and the family lived in poverty – with Michael working as a gardener and labourer after leaving school and leaving Wales in 1940 after his mother died.

Unable to find work and desperately hungry, Michael had eaten some bread that had been left out as bait for rats – and died from the poison it contained. He was just 34.

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In a time when so many were losing their lives, Glyndwr Michael would undoubtedly have been completely forgotten were it not for Fleming’s bizarre plan.

The spies created a new identity for Michael. He became Bill Martin, a Captain (Acting Major), in the Royal Marines working as a courier between British commanders in London and the Mediterranean.

He was provided with a uniform – that Cholmondeley “wore in” to make sure it didn’t look too new, and girlfriend in the shape of “Pam”, who wrote him letters begging “don’t please let them send you off into the blue…”

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Jean Leslie, a secretary in MI5’s counterintelligence department, donated a photo of herself in a swimsuit that went into the dead man’s wallet.

Ticket stubs in Bill Martin’s pockets showed that he had taken Pam to a variety show shortly before his fateful journey – where they would have seen two aspiring comics at the bottom of the bill called Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise.

Alongside all the tickets, bank statements and other “pocket litter” in Martin’s briefcase was the payload of the operation.

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A letter from Lieutenant General Sir Archibald Nye, the vice chief of the Imperial General Staff, to General Sir Harold Alexander, who at the time commanded the 18th Army Group in North Africa, containing a strong hint that the invasion would come in Greece.

It read: “We have recent information that the [Germans] have been reinforcing and strengthening their defences in Greece and Crete and C.I.G.S. felt that our forces for the assault were insufficient.

“It was agreed by the Chiefs of Staff that the 5th Division should be reinforced by one Brigade Group for the assault on the beach south of CAPE ARAXOS and that a similar reinforcement should be made for the 56th division at KALAMATA”.

With everything now in place the unwitting hero’s body was placed in an air-tight container, and loaded aboard the submarine HMS Seraph ready to be jettisoned off the coast of Spain.

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On the morning of April 30 1943, the body of “Bill Martin,” – with his briefcase still tied to his belt – was dragged aboard a Spanish sardine fisherman’s boat and was soon in the hands of the local authorities in the port of Huelva.

Spain was technically neutral, but General Franco’s government was known to be sympathetic to the Nazis.

A German Military Intelligence officer was allowed to search the body before it was handed over to the British consulate. A single eyelash placed inside Nye’s envelope by the British was missing when it was returned – proof that the Germans had steamed the letter open and read it. A copy of the letter was sent to Berlin for Hitler's attention.

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As a result of the deception, the crack 1st Panzer Division was transferred from France to Salonika on the Greek coast and two other armoured divisions transferred from the Eastern Front to the Balkans, torpedo boats were also moved from Sicily to Greece and the German garrison in Sardinia’s was doubled.

The Allies began their attack on Sicily on July 9, 1943. The Allied conquest of Sicily took just 38 days as opposed to the expected 90, and thousands of Allied soldiers’ lives were saved.

The man who had saved their lives was lying in a cemetery in Huelva. His headstone read:

"William Martin, born 29 March 1907, died 24 April 1943, beloved son of John Glyndwyr Martin and the late Antonia Martin of Cardiff, Wales, Dulce et Decorum est pro Patria Mori, R.I.P."

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