The Man Who Never Was

Early morning on the 1st of May 1943, a Spanish fisherman discovered a corpse clothed in British military attire which had washed ashore. Apparently a casualty of an airplane accident at sea, he had a briefcase chained to him. Identified as Major William Martin of the British Royal Marines, the body and the briefcase was demanded by the British Admiralty.

Spain, technically a neutral party during WWII, turned them in, but not before letting the Abwehr– the German intelligence organization– examine everything. Inside the suitcase was the letter from Sir Archibald Nye, vice chief of the Imperial General Staff to Sir Harold Alexander, the British commander in North Africa, which outlined the Allies’ plans to invade Europe from Sardinia, Corsica and Greece. This vital information was rushed to Berlin.

On May 12th, Hitler sent an order: “Measures regarding Sardinia and the Peloponnese take precedence over everything else,” diverting resources away from Sicily, through which the Allied Forces eventually invaded. This was because Germans had fallen for an elaborate deception: Major Martin never existed, and was part of a ruse named, “Operation Mincemeat”.

The British Intelligence procured the body of a 34-year-old man who had recently died with pneumonia, with lungs full of fluid as a drowned man’s would. To create the aura of authenticity, the corpse was given IDs, keys, personal letters, and other possessions such as overdue bills and a letter from his fiance.

Considering the deliberate efforts to protect the true identity of Major Martin at the time, and the wishes of his real family who granted permission to use the body on the condition that the man’s identity never be revealed, it is quite possible that we will never know the real name of Major Martin.

12 thoughts on “The Man Who Never Was”

  1. International History Channel documentary on this event suggested that the original body selected was substituted using a Royal Navy rating that died of drowning as the result of an aircraft carrier fire off of Scotland. The reason: the person was actually drowned and that the body was less deteriorated. The submarine used to deposit the body left from Scotland and not from either Portsmouth or Plymouth which was closer to London. Wonder if there is any truth to the story??

  2. A person who has died of pneumonia has a lung filled with neutrophils (acute inflammation). A person who
    has died of drowning dies quickly enough that neutrophils don’t accumulate so they are quite easily distinguished. If the body was subject to autopsy, pneumonia would be obvious.

  3. There is a difference between getting “sober” (abstaining from alcohol) and “recovering” from dipsomania. Recovery requires modifications in your thinking process, mending and occupying the emptiness that alcohol fills with something else that is not a individual, place or thing. For spiritually-based recovery programmes such as A.A. and Women for Sobriety, this would involve a spiritual awakening and making alterations in your life that would extend to a different payoff scheme than drinking.

  4. Is it possible that this man was drowned in sea water prior to his release into the sea?. Any autopsy would then be consistent with the cause of death which the british wanted to the germans to beleive.

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