Tony's Reviews > Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory

Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre
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's review
Dec 30, 10

bookshelves: nonfiction
Read in January, 2010

I like reading about espionage and World War II every once in a while, so based on some favorable review I read somewhere, I picked this up. Unfortunately, like all too many popular nonfiction books I seem to encounter these days (such as The Tiger and In the Heart of the Sea, to name the two most recent examples I read), the book is overstuffed with extraneous detail and (to my mind at least) vastly overstates the importance of the topic it covers. The title refers to a British intelligence operation designed to misdirect the German High Command into believing that the impending Allied invasion of southern Europe in 1943 would take place in Sardinia instead of Sicily, and thus lead the Germans to concentrate their forces in the wrong place. The scheme involved planting a corpse in the coast off of Spain with documents that could be interpreted to indicate the false invasion location so that the Spanish would pass the information along to the Germans.

While this was certainly a colorful ruse (so colorful indeed, that this is one of two books published this year about it: see also Deathly Deception: The Real Story of Operation Mincemeat), it's pretty well worn territory. You can learn about all you need to know from chapters in recent books such as The Deceivers: Allied Military Deception in the Second World War or Deceiving Hitler: Double Cross and Deception in World War II. Moreover, the plan's principal engineer, Ewen Montague, wrote his own self-aggrandizing account of the whole affair (The Man Who Never Was) some fifty years ago, which itself was turned into a passable film of the same title. I suppose this new book is best regarded as an updated and expanded look at the operation, but one that really seems all to intent on following every possible thread and injecting every single piece of research into the text. In short, it reads like a long magazine essay or book chapter inflated to book-length.

Of course, there's also the issue of just how important Mincemeat actually was. The author makes it out to be absolutely pivotal to all that followed and the eventual Allied victory, but other histories of the war place it as just a component in a much larger plan to misdirect the Germans over Sicily (I forget the codename for the larger plan, maybe Barclay?). Moreover, as the author recounts, it wasn't even that original -- a similar scheme had been tried before (which begs the question of why they thought a second attempt was a good idea). Indeed the whole premise of the operation's importance is somewhat confounded by the author's admission at the end that high-ranking anti-Nazi elements in German intelligence may well have seen through the ruse but chosen to look the other way in an attempt to speed up Hitler's downfall. On the whole, an interesting episode that certainly involved a lot of interesting people, but I'm not sure how many people will really find an entire book on it that fascinating.
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