MI5 code name for an ingenious deception operation conducted in April 1943 to persuade the enemy that the impending Allied amphibious operation in the Mediterranean would be directed against Sardinia and the Balkans, when the real objective was Sicily.
The body of “Major Martin,” a supposed British Royal Marines courier with a briefcase containing secret documents attached to his wrist, was deposited off the coast of Spain near Huelva by the submarine HMS Seraph in the expectation that the material would pass into the hands of the German intelligence service. In fact, the cadaver was of a Welsh-born London tramp, Gwyndyr Michael, who had died of drinking a toxin. As planned, the contents of his attaché case were examined by the enemy.
Conceived by an MI5 officer, Charles Cholmondeley, and inspired by a similar event that had occurred in 1941 when a Catalina aircraft carrying a French officer had crashed off the Spanish coast, causing classified documents to fall into enemy hands, MINCEMEAT was supervised by a naval intelligence officer, Ewen Montagu. Whether the Nazis ever believed Martin’s documents is open to debate, but Axis reinforcements were sent to Greece in an apparent response to the information acquired from Spain.
The postwar publication of an indiscreet but fictional version of this episode in Operation Heartbreak by Duff Cooper, who had held ministerial responsibility for MI5 in 1943, prompted press interest, and a Daily Express journalist, Ian Colvin, traced the grave of “Major Martin” in Huelva. This disclosure persuaded the government to commission Montagu to publish an authorized account of the operation as The Man Who Never Was in 1953, which was made into a movie in 1956.