Photo of barrage balloon from America from the Great Depression to World War II, at the Library of Congress.
Today in Odd History
"The Man Who Never Was" Launches Operation Mincemeat (April 30, 1943)
The discovery of the body didn't end the charade. The Allies were well aware that the Abwehr (German intelligence) would be watching them closely. Britain demanded that Spain return "Martin's" briefcase; after the requisite amount of diplomatic posturing, they did. It appeared to be untouched, but microscopic examination of the contents revealed that they had been carefully studied. "Martin" himself was buried in Huelva, with full military honors. His grieving fiancee sent flowers to adorn his grave. (And up until 1994, someone came regularly to lay red carnations there, but no one ever saw who it was.) On June 4, The Times included his name in the casualty lists. The Germans were completely convinced. Within days of "Martin's" appearance on the Spanish coast, Montagu telegraphed Winston Churchill to say "Mincemeat swallowed whole." On May 12, Adolph Hitler sent out an order: "Measures regarding Sardinia and the Peloponnese take precedence over everything else." He sent a Panzer division to Greece from France, ordered two Panzer divisions in Russia to prepare to move to Greece as well (and this just before the great tank battle at Kursk), and moved an extra Waffen SS brigade into the area. He thought he was well-prepared.
On July 9, 1943, the Allies moved. They concentrated their assault on the southern tip of Sicily, well away from the troops massed at the northern end, facing Sardinia. The Italian divisions collapsed almost immediately. The Germans, under Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, fell back to Messina. They resisted as well as they could, but Hitler still had it in his mind that the real attack would be in Greece, so they were not reinforced. On July 23, in fact, Hitler ordered Field Marshal Erwin Rommel to oversee the forces protecting Sardinia. By August 17, General George S. Patton and Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery had taken Sicily, due in large part to the efforts of a man who was dead before his mission even began.
Note: For many years, the true identity of "Major Martin" remained a mystery. He was known only as a man who had died of pneumonia in the winter of 1943. According to some reports, his family had requested that his name be kept a secret when they gave permission for his body to be used in Operation Mincemeat. Then Roger Morgan, a British town planning officer and amateur historian, discovered evidence that "Martin" was actually a homeless Welsh alcoholic named Glyndwr Michael, who had either committed suicide by eating rat poison, or been accidentally poisoned while sleeping in a barn.Two arguments support Morgan's theory. First, cyanide, a common ingredient in rat poison, causes pulmonary congestion, or chemical pneumonia. Second, when the British were constructing "Martin's" identity, they gave his place of birth as Cardiff, in Wales. It seems likely that "Major Martin" has indeed been identified.
The tale was also told in a 1956 film starring Clifton Webb.
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