Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The Point of Smoking Lizard

Posted: August 2, 2022 in Uncategorized

Smoking Lizard is EVERYWHERE! I do columns here on this blog that are a mix of my personal adventures concerning a subject and pieces that will help others interested in that subject. At the moment, I really only like five things…WRITING (and the supporting READING): Behold! I give you the Scribbler’s Saga column. I will relate parts of my life as a writer, provide a review of properties I’ve read and tools I’ve tested, post essays about writing and hopefully interview other writers.

Additionally, when I just need to fill my cyberspace with actual writing, whether short one-shots or small pieces of the greater whole: Author’s Assortment.

MUSIC: I’ve been talking big about composing music for a decent while now. As I figure out how to fish or cut bait in this area, you, Dear Reader, will read all about it in the Composer’s Counterpoint column. Posts may include my Woody Allen-esque frustration with thinking I’m better at music than I am, reviews of music, tools and the presently rare live shows. Again, part of the mission is to interview other musicians.

TABLETOP RPGS: Yes, I play Dungeons & Dragons. Yes, I can go on for hours about the time I played a thief that hot-prowled the villain’s house and walked out with a suit of armor. But, that was a long time ago. It’s time to make new stories. It’s time to see if I can create adventures other players want to play. As with the other columns the content of the Dungeoneer’s Diary, will mix the personal and journalistic.

ILLUSTRATION and VISUAL ARTS: While I myself don’t draw, I do okay with a camera and certain apps. The Imager’s Impression column will probably be less frequently advanced, but will discuss my appreciation of pictures and the people who make them. And when I make more images with my script kid tools, the results will go here.

MOVIES: Yeah, I thought I would skip writing about movies. Start laughing now. So anyway if I’m bloviating about movies, it  goes here in the Filmgoer’s Flamethrower.There will be times when columns will cross over, because working on a fun dungeon will spark a novel idea that may cause me to pull out the harmonica…Lastly, if you came to the site for my older content click on one of the many pages that will provide links to nearby archive sites. Happy Reading.

© 2022 G.N. Jacobs

I guess this is where the smarty-pants types among you might ask, “so was it worth it to read and watch four different versions of the same gruesome WW2 story where the British grab a dead body, dress it up with a uniform and a fake life in order to accidentally on purpose lose certain highly classified documents to the Nazis in order to pull the head fake to end all head fakes concerning Allied intentions leading up to the invasion of Sicily?” Ending on the recent John Madden version based on Ben McIntyre’s book (see review) the answer is, “Yeah, the project peaked on a good movie.” Ending on The Man Who Never Was (see review) based on the memoir of the man who was there, Ewen Montague, given the same title (see review), the answer lands more on, “I guess so, it’s such a fascinating event that any version will at least hold my interest.”

There is so much to like about how McIntyre’s book landed on screen where even the artifice seems to generally support the truthful whole. This narrative web does a brilliant job of adding the human touches that actually make the story more like the spy thriller it was sold as across all four incarnations. What do I mean? Spy thrillers allow for the actions of both sides to come to the fore creating the possibility of abject defeat in a game noted for knees and elbows alley fighting. 

The real events of Operation Mincemeat took place in offices and clubs in three phases, A) developing the fake man, B) waiting out the tense fortnight between sending Major Martin to war and recovery of his body and C) sitting around the telex praying for the Germans to believe the letters. Certainly, a nail-bitingly tense six months for the people actually in the room who know how many lives might be on the line should the Allies land at an honestly contested beach. Filmgoers tend to value things that appear to happen and sitting in offices around the Telex machine doesn’t count…

…unless the filmmakers cannily fill those spaces with natural expansions of the narrative implied by how McIntyre wrote his book with how these interactions might have played out should time travelers go back with a fistful of 1080p cameras disguised as ladybugs (to prevent said cameras being squashed, we like ladybugs). Thus, the thin traces of a relationship between Montague (Colin Firth) and Jean Leslie (Kelly MacDonald), the young Admiralty staffer that gave a photo to Major Martin, pretty much hinted at by McIntyre in the book becomes a fully realized almost affair filled with walks home in the gloom of a blacked-out wartime London. Scenes where playing pretend about the otherwise fictional Bill Martin and his one-true love, Pam, becomes an excuse for Montague, presently estranged from the wife and kids secured in the United States, to imagine what might happen if he leans in for a kiss with either the best or worst timing possible…depending on point of view.

Similarly, another thread that might not have really happened are the interactions between Montague and Charles Cholmondeley (Matthew Macfadyen) and Jean that add so much to the potboiler parts of the plot that fill in the boring parts of the movie (the thing about offices and Telexes). While the possibility of Montague and Jean exist in the book, the added layer of a triangle between Montague, Cholmondeley and Jean is just brilliant fiction. The plot thickens when Admiral John Godfrey (Jason Isaacs) recruits Cholmondeley to watch Montague over the suspected Communist leanings, confirmed after the war, of a brother, Ivor Montague (Mark Gatiss) actions that come to a head riding in the truck taking the body to Scotland to meet up with the submarine, HMS Seraph, intended to drop off the body in the water near Spain.

To make the story work even more like the finely tuned Swiss watch that lands on screen, some otherwise minor characters are given scenes that hit hard and move on. British Naval Attaché in Madrid, Captain David Ainsworth (Nicholas Rowe) has to goose a Spanish secret police commander, Colonel Cerruti (Oscar Zafra), into acting to make sure the fake letters fall into the hands of the more Fascist (anybody but the Navy) parts of the Spanish Government. Technique employed…a hand job (pardon my French). Did it really happen? McIntyre’s book doesn’t mention it (there was another British intelligence officer omitted from the movie found and photographed in a dress), but given that no country on the planet was all that tolerant of LBGTQ, except for those deemed useful to the larger cause who could keep things from going public, until very recently, if it did happen no way does the man put this moment in a report that could one day declassify.

That last bit of complete artifice that seems to enhance the movie is the handling of Ian Fleming (Johnny Flynn), who history records was in the room and was among the first to propose the idea of a dead body loaded up with fake papers a couple years before Operation Mincemeat. He wrote a memo with various ruses upon the start of the war that no one else in British intelligence thought could work until Montague and Cholmondeley tackled the problem halfway through the war by asking what the experts thought would work. 

In addition to Fleming’s real role as intermediary between Montague’s office and the rest of the Twenty Committee overseeing all wartime deceptions, the filmmakers decided that the fictional version of the man later to create James Bond should act as narrator of a sort. On the day of the invasion of Sicily, Flynn playing Fleming narrates as he types a quite poetic summary of the plot using various sayings about espionage written elsewhere for example, “wilderness of mirrors” and “the truth is protected by a bodyguard of lies.” In the movie, Fleming is depicted in the office actually sitting at a typewriter. Yes, Montague calls out the oddity of Fleming over in the corner while everyone else is at their desks pensively praying, drinking too much high-caffeine tea and coffee and just hoping the Telex spits out good news. My instincts would be to go deeper with the moment…

“Really, Ian, you can type at a time like this? And make sure the office censor sees those pages before you leave.”

“I’ve drunk too much coffee today, Ewan, and I have to do something with my hands. If it’s all the same to you the shredder’s over in the corner.”

…except no one paid me to have any input whatsoever.

The moment does lead into giving Cholmondeley an observation that even I mentioned in the review for McIntyre’s book…how many real-life amateur novelists had a piece of the greater story. Upon hearing someone else in the office congratulate Captain Ainsworth on the recently finished novel, Cholmondeley asks with great exasperation “how many novelists are there in this operation?” – followed by grousing to Jean – “I’m surrounded by them, novelists I mean, not Germans.” Carefully counting up the novelists in the book it came out to four, including Ian Fleming who freely admitted to the most writer thing of all, stealing *AHEM* borrowing ideas from someone else. And then you get to thinking that the fate of a major Allied operation depended in part on four novelists taking a highly novelistic plot and going about their business with such a straight face that with a little help from a sympathetic Nazi the whole zaniness worked.

In addition to a set of brilliance in weaving together truth and things we wish were true, the strength of this movie rests on the casting. Colin Firth plays this general part of the genteel British man trying to make sense of how he fits in the larger scheme in his sleep. Matthew Macfadyen eats up scenery playing both the fictional and truthful aspects of Charles Cholmondeley and clearly looked at a few photographs of the real man. The man embodied the awkwardness that would leave him as the unsuccessful third wheel of the fictional triangle with Jean at the apex. 

However, I did take exception to the clearly fictional depiction of Cholmondeley going along on the HMS Seraph as part of an overly sentimental need to show respect for Major Martin a.k.a. Glyndwyr Michael. Both the real man and the actor were too tall for the average submarine of the era. He says as much upon returning to London, but here’s the real rub of the moment…after dropping the body into Spanish coastal waters the real Seraph was ordered to destroy evidence of the plot (the cannister carrying the body) and then go into the Mediterranean on a normal patrol against Axis shipping. 

In order to divest the submarine of a very tall man who has little in the way of submarine skills, the Seraph would have to pull into the nearest Allied port of Gibraltar. Pulling into port when you don’t have to risks being seen by an Axis spy creating danger when a report of “Allied submarine, possibly HMS Seraph reported in port on…” lands on a desk in Berlin. But the audience does get to feel the sentimentality of someone from the deception office going along to recite the Burial at Sea Ceremony (truthfully conducted by the Captain of the Seraph, Bill Jewell (Rufus Wright)).

My main pet peeve about this otherwise amazing movie rests on the cinematography. The only well-lit scenes happen indoors. Certain scenes, especially the ones on the deck of the submarine are just too dark, an artistic decision in the eternal cinematic battle between how the dark of night can create fear and indecision and the audience getting confused as to what is happening. Most movies experiment to find a middle ground. This one didn’t care that I reached in vain for the Brightness button on three separate devices to see the Netflix feed. Though the general darkness works better for walking around London at night with flashlights pointed at the ground, because it’s war and cities blackout in war.

To close, this movie deserves the hype you’ve likely been hearing about it. I’m an easy sell when it comes to well-made war movies. Still, perhaps if you haven’t already, see it for yourself and enjoy!        

© 2022 G.N. Jacobs

A body with documents washes ashore with important documents. Major William Martin never exactly existed except in the minds of a special team of British intelligence officers tasked with creating confusion among the Nazis prior to the 1943 invasion of Sicily.

This first film version of the story about a gruesome and apparently highly successful deception operation is pretty much the first draft of the story. Seeing this movie the first time without benefit of reading either the eponymous book by Hon. LCDR Ewen Montague RN on which this film is based (see review) or the more complete Operation Mincemeat by Ben McIntyre (see review) gives the initial impression of a great movie. Now that I’ve read the real story, my current feeling has more to do with not even getting to the really good parts. The filmmakers including director Ronald Neame seemed more interested in the ‘just the facts, ma’am’ version of the story.’ We’ll see about the upcoming Operation Mincemeat based on McIntyre’s book (see review).

The story is streamlined to remove and consolidate many characters while presenting a mostly one-note depiction of fairly standard British stock characters. Clifton Webb as Montague does his best to seem like the real-life intelligence officer given the gruesome job. The thing is, even without the extra knowledge that comes from the decades-later declassification of the project’s full file, this movie doesn’t fully live up to what was known based on Montague’s book published in the 1950s. A publication that happened because a cabinet secretary wrote a novel about it and a journalist on the outside whom the British government wanted to cut off at the knees neared completing his own book.

Looking at the movie now, the interplay between the truthful parts, the mechanics of creating a person out of thin air with a real personality to convince Adolf Hitler to reinforce Sardinia and Greece at the expense of Sicily and the invented parts don’t mesh together the way I thought they did. The pure invention is Lucy (Gloria Grahame) who shares a flat in London with Pam (Josephine Griffin). The act of Pam farming out the letters to Lucy as she experiences the same emotions having her own whirlwind romance proves both dangerous and fortuitous.

Admiral Wilhelm Canaris sends an agent based in Dublin, Patrick O’Reilly (Stephen Boyd) to London to run down the basic facts of Major Martin’s life. This includes stops at the clothing store that sells British officers their uniforms, the residential club and finally Pam and Lucy’s flat. Tragically and luckily, Lucy’s actual fiancé died the same day that the German agent arrives to ask about the relationship with Major Martin. Her tears prove convincing and O’Reilly takes a risk exposing his address in London for final confirmation and is allowed to escape to prove his message.

This whole subplot is both a reason to see the movie and once you read the real story feel cheated at how extravagantly fictional it is. Gloria Grahame cries well on cue. She’s ecstatically happy when Joe is still alive and crushingly sad when he isn’t. And the music that plays underneath goes for schmaltz as sometimes happens in movies of the era. And Stephen Boyd as the Irish Nazi is appropriately terrifying is ways that not even his Mesala was a few years later…waiting in doorways like that approaching silently until the woman employed by British Intelligence but who still is a woman turns on the light.

The problem is that very little of this carried over into the streamlined but more factual scenes about Montague and his sidekick, George Akers (Robert Flemyng) a pseudonym for the real-life Charles Cholmondeley. At a key moment, Webb’s Montague basically runs a little roughshod over Pam when she gets a little weepy when she tries to explain how Lucy was so convincing when the German agent came calling. A little mean in any movie and downright weird as well as mean now that I’ve actually read the books on which this movie is based.

In a similar vein, the Akers character is a fairly ordinary dry witted English good-time guy stereotype that doesn’t hold up well having read the books. Even in Montagu’s book, where the still serving Cholmondeley needed to be written out of the story, the George on the page is more interesting than the George in this movie. And then when you read McIntyre’s book, you see how shallow and vacuous the fictional man really is. It gets funnier because Cholmondeley was on set acting as unofficial technical advisor during shooting.

When I first saw this movie on whatever cable channel it was, none of these issues mattered. I didn’t notice how the two halves didn’t really belong together in the same movie. It was a mostly true story about a true event in the war that worked out well for the Allies. I didn’t need better than that. Now I do. The movie still entertains, just try to see it before Operation Mincemeat.   

© 2022 G.N. Jacobs

In continuing my exploration of the strange wartime exploits of Major William Martin, R.M. (oh, sorry Glyndwr Michael), the next stop on the journey is, of course, Ben McIntyre’s book Operation Mincemeat. This second book published long after Britain feels any need to preserve secrecy concerning either operations (e.g. “we may want to do this again”) or the delicacy involved with whose body got grabbed and how the grabbing took place is the book that The Man Who Never Was by Ewen Montagu never got to be. It helps to have Britain, Germany, Spain and Italy open up their files.

To recap, Operation Mincemeat was a deception operation in World War Two where in the lead up to the Sicily Invasion the body of a freshly dead homeless man went sideways into war service as a Royal Marine major in order to convince the Nazis that letters found on the body indicated false attacks elsewhere than Sicily. History records the gruesome ploy worked. McIntyre endeavors to explain why and expresses, in 20-20 hindsight how slightly different decisions and thought processes at all levels of the Nazi Government mean that the plan should’ve failed…miserably.

The book begins with the Spaniard that found the body and ends with a wealth of detail taking place after the war about Montagu’s attempts to convince British authorities to let him publish the story. In between, there are vivid character portraits and connections to whole other facets of Britain’s history between the 1930s up through the 1960s, in some cases I’ve read those books too. Then again, Montagu did work for what was alternately called Twenty Committee, Double Cross Committee or XX Committee (I hope you see the similarities in the names so I don’t have to spell it out). Pretty much this group had access to everything British Intelligence generated with an eye towards using it to fool the Nazis into doing stupid things to lose the war…of course the connections go everywhere.

What struck me about the narrative is how many novelists featured in the story beyond just Ian Fleming, acting as personal assistant to committee member and head of Naval Intelligence, Admiral John Godfrey. At least, four other names mentioned wrote, mostly unpublished and probably unpublishable, crime, thriller and maybe an adventure novel or two about treasure hunting. You’d think with so many of these mostly men being properly or nominally in the Royal Navy that at least one of them would’ve busted out something about pirates, but I digress. 

More importantly, these novelists had read other contemporary writers and when they were tasked after the successful African Campaign to deflect Nazi attention away from Sicily, they grabbed the idea of a dead body with a briefcase full of documents from some other novels that clearly the Nazis hadn’t read. Gee, it gives hope that maybe one day I can grow up to beat the crap of my nation’s enemies with the same skills involved in inventing new RPG monsters, devious crimes and fictional bare-knuckle politics…imagination. Though, of course, there is also a record scratch moment – “What? Wait! A gruesome and ingenious plan originally came from a couple of pre-war novels and it worked?”

McIntyre gives a full picture of some very odd people across Europe and Africa all pulling on the same oars, whether the aforementioned novelists, journalists, lawyers and military professionals on the team. We learn about cross dressing British diplomats, nearsighted F1 drivers, extremely arrogant professors of forensic medicine, a humorous other forensic pathologist tasked with actually finding the body. And I’ll split the infinitive, so to speak, before discussing some of the equally interesting Nazi personalities that experienced these events from the other side.

These eccentric personalities were needed to do one thing; convince Nazis with the same ability to read a map that “ignore those war preparations going on in Tunisia and Egypt, we’re really invading Sardinia and Greece at the same time.” To bolster the belief structure likely to accept the lie the Allies had A) the resources for two invasions at the same time and B) could see military wisdom in avoiding the obvious geographical requirement of Sicily (look at the map, it’s practically in the exact center of the Mediterranean, a soccer ball getting its ass kicked by Italy), many hundreds of people went to work inflating, installing and moving rubber and balsa wood armies in the Sahara Desert. Real commandos went to Greece to blow things up ahead of the lie. The dead body with the suitcase full of “revealing letters” was only intended as the icing on the cake.

There was a problem. The British didn’t quite get the part about exactly keeping the body fresh over the three months between Mr. Michael’s death and Major Martin’s unfortunate crash near southwestern Spain between Gibraltar and Portugal. The Spanish medical examiner that did the initial examination listed a range for probable times of death and floating in the ocean that conflicted with the timeline created by the pocket litter (various personal letters, theater stubs, overdraft notices, etc.) by up to four days.

Luckily, a British Vice Consul, Frances Haselden, was in the room to help the pathologist make only a cursory examination trading on assumptions that Spanish Catholics would want to slack off on full post-mortems for British Catholic soldiers. This *ahem* diplomat also had the task of getting Major Martin’s grave covered with a marble slab as soon as possible to prevent the Nazis or Spaniards from digging up the body for a full reexamination. He also was one of at least four British diplomats tasked with the delicate acting job of pressing neutral Spanish authorities for the return of the body and effects as soon as possible, but not too soon to prevent the letters from being photographed by the fascist Spanish and provided to the Nazis whom they owed for the help in the Spanish Civil War. 

Which brings us back around to the Nazi personalities in this story. At the local level near the small city of Huelva we have Adolfo Clauss, son of the local German consul. He was terrifyingly efficient at spying in his region. Being good at making friends with Spanish officials had been noted by the British…why they picked his territory.

One step above Clauss in the Madrid embassy, we have Karl-Erich Kühlenthal, whom history records wasn’t nearly as good at spying as Clauss, but given that espionage is a “wilderness of mirrors” didn’t know it until long after the war and never publicly admitted to his failures. Kühlenthal was primarily involved in running the infamous double agent, Juan Pujol Garcia (codenamed Garbo by the British for his sheer acting ability) who simply made up a whole network of completely imaginary subagents in Britain intent on selling the con to the Nazis. Kühlenthal did get his boss, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, to weigh in personally to get the letters from the Spanish.

Still, with a possible four-day discrepancy that is at the very least something that should be vigorously investigated, we come around to the last link in the chain on the Nazi side of things, Colonel Baron Alexis von Roenne. This interesting man was thought of as “Hitler’s favorite intelligence analyst.” The man who was staunchly Christian in the best way to mean that word possibly did everything he could to undermine the Nazis by recommending bad information up the chain of command. Whether for Operation Barclay (the larger project that included Mincemeat) or the later similar deceptions concerning the Normandy invasion a year later, it is supposed that despite doubts about the quality of various data he told the High Command and Hitler that the information was good. The good baron was friends with the public face of Operation Valkyrie (July 20 bombing plot against Hitler), Claus von Stauffenberg. Being friends with the man that placed the bomb wasn’t good for life expectancy, the baron died gruesomely on a meat hook in October 1944.

In the end, Mincemeat and the larger deception worked because Hitler, who saw the documents within days of recovery from Spain, needed them to be genuine. If the Allies actually had the resources depicted in the deception, attacking Greece presents an interesting problem for the Axis. Greece leads through admittedly rugged mountainous terrain to Romania from where the Nazis obtained most of their petroleum. 

Additionally, attacking Europe through the Balkans meant linking up with the Soviets as if the western allies were taking Stalin seriously about a Second Front and could lead to a better postwar result concerning Eastern Europe. Similarly, Sardinia was a necessary first stop on the way to southern France, a possibility if more American generals had won more early arguments with British generals that the war would be won in France going straight at the Nazis. All it took to reinforce these possibilities was a huge amount of fake troop movements, radio traffic and a dead body with fake letters.

Believing the lie, the Nazis reinforced everywhere but southern Sicily and pulled up short in the massive tank battle near Kursk. Sicily crumbled. Italy’s other fascists convinced the Italian King to pull support from Mussolini and promptly change sides in the war to get the unpopular Germans from Italian soil (a two-year campaign until the end of the war). Near total success.

Mostly because of how McIntyre presents the information highlighting the many strange personalities involved in this story where the body of a homeless Welshman died in London and went to war as a fictitious Royal Marine major, I found this to be one of the more enlightening reads in the subject of History. I’m also glad to have read the book first because the recent Netflix movie (see review) is going to cut the narrative down to size. A great read!  

© 2022 G.N. Jacobs

I first learned of the gruesome intelligence operation known as Operation Mincemeat in a great old book on World War Two I can no longer find thusly – “They took a body. Put him in a uniform with a briefcase and dropped him in the water near Spain.” Young me filed that away until I then saw the first filmed adaptation of Ewen Montagu’s wartime memoir The Man Who Never Was. I’ll get to that part later; this is me reading the actual book.

Knowing that with the advent on Netflix of the second adaptation Operation Mincemeat, it was time to go looking in the library. Two modestly unpalatable choices exist for grabbing this 70-year-old title suddenly made hot by the new movie. Wait out the hold process for getting the one copy circulating from a branch that is practically on the opposite end of our fair Southern California city (San Diego). Or take the trolley downtown to the main library where an earlier edition of the book waited on the 940.54 shelf on the Fifth Floor. I went downtown and forgot to turn around until prompted by the librarian coming to help…added about twenty minutes of where is it?

For those of you that might be a little like me, where being an ADHD poster child guarantees difficulty reading versus just watching the movie, this book is a godsend. A first-person narrative (the guy writing it borrowed a subordinate’s similar idea for another intelligence problem against the Nazis and made it happen) with an easy breezy writing style that pretty much can’t hide…yeah, he’s an upper middle class British guy whose daddy has a peerage of fairly recent vintage relative to the 1943 timeframe of most of these events. Easy to read blocking out four hours is always a plus.

Anyway, the book shows us how you have to think when the intent of grabbing a freshly dead body out of the morgues of London is to drop him in the water with a briefcase filled with two completely fake letters from high-ranking generals in order to convince the Germans that “ignore that completely obvious invasion of Sicily, it’s just a diversion from a two-pronged effort one going at Sardinia and the other for Greece.” Basically, it comes down to answering the Capitol One Question – “What’s in your wallet?” I don’t think anyone associated with the more recent movie thought to have Jennifer Garner do a cameo…pity (not really).

The narrative becomes about the nuts and bolts. How do you get a body? How do you get the body’s family to agree to give up their loved one with no questions asked for the war effort? What deaths on land most mimic a drowning? What service should he be in? What is his purpose for going to the Mediterranean that two real generals would write letters giving away the fake invasions? And lastly (truth in advertising) what knickknacks need to be in this guy’s wallet that would make a Spanish pathologist, a specifically targeted German spy and the entire Nazi high command believe both the fake man and his letters?

The team settles on Captain (Temporary Major) William Martin, Royal Marines. One of the letters from Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten (Prince Phillip’s cousin and at the time commander of all commando operations) specifically says Martin is an expert on amphibious operations with a rising star because of predicting that the Dieppe Raid (an infamous failure valued as a learning experience) would go bad months before anyone else did. The same letter makes a snide joke about sardines giving the game away about Sardinia. The second letter more prosaically gives the game away saying Sicily will divert from the Sardinia operation and the Dodecanese islands will divert from an attack in Greece more or less near Corinth.

Major Martin is a person, one likely to lightly break certain strict security protocols because he’s human, sees certain rules as total BS and because even a James Bond movie once asserted that fake biographies (legends) can be seen through because the person depicted is too perfect. So suddenly there’s a girlfriend/fiancé, actually it was two women, one to give the photo the other to write the steamy gushy (more of the latter, British People, natch) love letters. They decide Martin isn’t that great with money having the receipts for temporary debts from a tailor/haberdasher that has outfitted British officers since forever for a new shirt. Another receipt for a wedding ring gifted to the lady writing the letters. Major Martin’s dad also wrote a letter commenting on the impending wartime wedding. A lot of detail…

The moment comes to drop the body into the water from a submarine that had already engaged in certain clandestine activities related to the recent invasion of North Africa. A few people, including the Author, keep certain knickknacks as souvenirs. The sub captain clues in his officers who help him set a body that drowned after a plane wreck adrift. The BBC drops in a mention about the crashed aircraft. And then everybody has to wait months and for some questions two years until the end of the war to find out did the plan work?

Early on, the clues came in the form of diplomatic messages with the British consul for the city of Huelva where the trick is to look concerned that British officers are falling into the ocean carrying sensitive letters but not too concerned. The idea was that local Spanish authorities would want to help out their German friends and hold onto the documents long enough for them to be unfolded, photographed and resealed before obeying the niceties of diplomacy between countries that aren’t at war. The targeted German spy saw the documents and sent them to Berlin. The invasion of Sicily goes better than expected (we’ve all seen the movies).

What takes two years to learn is just what happened to the documents after being sent to Germany. Memos captured in the last gasp of Nazi Germany reveal that copies of Major Martin’s documents took about two weeks to go from the morgue in Spain to Hitler’s office in Berlin. Mustache Man, believed his generals, and ordered reinforcements to move towards Sardinia, Greece and away from the southeast beaches near Syracuse. Complete success for the kind of plot that might not surface in warfare for another 200 years (cat’s out of the bag for anyone with a library card).

One note, the book doesn’t tell the whole story, only an overview narrative that glossed over the ugly details of the plot later revealed by the release of supporting documents from the notoriously clammed up British Security Services. Part of it, as LCDR Montagu put it himself, some of the people he dealt with on a daily basis during those war years still worked for Britain in clandestine duties at the time of writing. Both the fundamental gruesomeness of the task and/or just making writing decisions geared towards “just the summarized facts, Ma’am,” lead us to a book that hints at some interesting interactions with various personalities we’ll have to wait to see the most recent movie, Operation Mincemeatto actually see.

For instance, the declassified documents suggest that Glyndwyr Michael, the dead Welsh homeless man picked to serve as Major William Martin, had died of rat poisoning rather than the pneumonia asserted in both the book and the first movie. Additionally, having died completely indigent Michael had no family to give consent to the use of the body, certainly not even the proud Scot depicted in the first movie. I would be willing to bet that making up having a family to give permission helped the author sleep at night in the many decades after the war.

Anyway, there you have it an immensely readable and only modestly fictional account of the hard lengths people will go to win a war when the “alternative is too horrifying to contemplate.” The reviews for the movies will join this one when the library and making nice with friends and relatives still willing to pay for Netflix makes them available. Can’t wait…