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Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Operation Mincemeat

Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre relates a facet of World War II that is simultaneously one of the more morbid and lighthearted stories I've read about that horrible time.  The full title of the book is Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory.  It relates a bizarre method the British used to convince Germany that they weren't planning to invade Sicily, which seems to have been their only reasonable target.  They planted a dead body with papers that appeared to be private correspondence between Allied generals that indicated where the next major offensive would take place.  While it certainly drags in places, I enjoyed the book overall.

This wasn't my first time hearing about this incident.  The podcast Stuff You Missed in History Class did a two-part series on Operation Mincemeat, which was pretty good.  Even after listening to a fairly detailed overview of the incident, the book had much to offer.  A lot of the information in the book isn't directly related to Operation Mincemeat.  The book would be fairly short if it only relayed the actual facts of that mission, so it spends ample time providing the background of the various people involved and the context of the broader war effort.  This is both good and bad. It's pretty fascinating to learn about novelists like Ian Fleming putting their imaginations to work to bolster Allied intelligence and counterintelligence efforts.  On the other hand, the backstories of some of the minor characters seem more like filler than anything else.

What I found most interesting was that the success of the plan can be attributed more to German incompetence than British brilliance.  The breadth of the failures of the German intelligence apparatus are staggering.  By the book's account, Germany received virtually no intelligence from agents in the United Kingdom during WWII.  It's not that the didn't try, they actually believed they had a thriving network composed of dozens of agents.  Virtually all of these were fictitious personalities created by various Allied counterintelligence agencies.  Germany received only the exact information that its enemies decided to provide.  There's a good argument to be made that Operation Mincemeat would have been a massive failure but for the incompetence and malfeasance of the German intelligence agencies.

It's an interesting book that I'd recommend, particularly if you've never heard anything about Operation Mincemeat.

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