April 30, 1943 The Man who Never Was

There is a war memorial in the small South Wales town of Aberbargoed, in memory of Glyndwr Michael. In poetic prose so Tolkienish it could only be welsh, a plaque is inscribed with this phrase “Y Dyn Na Fu Erioed“.  It means “The Man Who Never Was”.


The idea was a head fake, disinformation planted into the hands of Nazi Germany, to make the enemy believe the allies planned to invade Sardinia and Greece in 1943, rather than the real targets of North Africa and Sicily. British Military Intelligence codenamed the ruse “Operation Mincemeat”.

The London coroner obtained the body of a 34-year-old homeless man by the name of Glyndwr Michael, on condition that his real identity never be revealed. The Welshman had died of rat poison though it’s uncertain whether the death was accidental, or suicide.  This particular poison came in a paste, and was spread on bread crusts to attract rats.  Michael may have died, merely because he was hungry.

glyndwr-martin

Be that as it may, the cause of death was difficult to detect, the condition of the corpse close to that of someone who had died at sea, of hypothermia and drowning. The dead man’s parents were both deceased, there were no known relatives and the man died friendless.  So it was that Glyndwr Michael became the Man who Never Was.

The next step was to create a “past” for the dead man. Michael became “(Acting) Major William “Bill” Martin, Royal Marines”, born 1907, in Cardiff, Wales, assigned to Headquarters, Combined Operations. As a Royal Marine, “Martin” could wear battle dress rather than a naval uniform. This was important, because Naval uniforms at the time were tailor-made by Gieves & Hawkes of Saville Row.  Authorities could hardly ask Gieves’ tailors to measure a corpse, without raising eyebrows.

The Operation Mincemeat team who helped to change the course of World War 2. H/T UK Guardian

The rank of acting major made Martin senior enough to be entrusted with sensitive documents, but not so prominent that anyone would expect to know him. The name “Martin” was chosen because there were several Martins of about that rank, already serving in the Royal Marines.

A “fiancé” was furnished for Major Martin in the form of an MI5 clerk named “Pam”. “Major Martin” carried her snapshot, along with two love letters and a jeweler’s bill, for a diamond engagement ring.

In keeping with his rank, Martin was given good quality underwear to increase his authenticity. Extremely difficult to obtain due to rationing, the underwear was purloined from the Master of the New College Oxford, who’d been run over and killed, by a truck.

The Man Who Never Was Year 1956 Director Ronald Neame
Scene from “The Man Who Never Was”, 1956, Directed by Ronald Neame

Made to look like the victim of a plane crash, the plan was to drop the body at sea at a place where the tide would bring it ashore and into German Hands.

On April 30, 1943 Lieutenant Norman Jewell, commander of the submarine Seraph, read the 39th Psalm.  The body of the man who never was, complete with briefcase padlocked to his wrist containing “secret” documents, slid into the ocean off the Spanish coast.

Glyndwr-Michael-memorial

The hoax worked, nicely.  A Spanish fisherman recovered the body and a Nazi agent intercepted the papers, as intended.  Mussolini insisted correctly that the allied attack would come through Sicily, but Hitler wasn’t buying it.  Der Führer swallowed the Mincemeat ruse whole insisting that the Sicilian attack was nothing but a diversion, from the real objective.

When the Allies invaded Sicily on the 9th of July, the Germans were so convinced it was a feint that they kept forces out of action for two full weeks.  After that, it was too late to affect the outcome.

The non-existent Major William Martin was buried with military honors in the Huelva cemetery of Nuestra Señora under a headstone which reads:

“William Martin, born 29 March 1907, died 24 April 1943, beloved son of John Glyndwyr Martin and the late Antonia Martin of Cardiff, Wales, Dulce et Decorum est pro Patria Mori, R.I.P.”  The Latin phrase means “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”

Inscription

In 1998, the British Government revealed Martin’s true identity, and “Glyndwr Michael; Served as Major William Martin, RM”, was added to the gravestone.

There is a war memorial in the small South Wales town of Aberbargoed, in memory of Glyndwr Michael. In poetic prose so Tolkienish it could only be welsh, a plaque is inscribed with this phrase “Y Dyn Na Fu Erioed“.  It means “The Man Who Never Was”.

Author: Cape Cod Curmudgeon

I'm not a "Historian". I'm a husband, a father, a son and a grandfather. A history geek and sometimes curmudgeon, who still likes to learn new things. I started "Today in History" back in 2013, thinking I’d learn a thing or two. I told myself I’d publish 365. The leap year changed that to 366. As I write this, I‘m closing in on a thousand. I do it because I want to & I make every effort to get my facts straight, but I'm as good at being wrong, as anybody else. I offer these "Today in History" stories in hopes that you'll enjoy reading them, as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. Thanks for coming along for the ride. Rick Long, the “Cape Cod Curmudgeon”

9 thoughts on “April 30, 1943 The Man who Never Was”

  1. It’s an incredible story of deception isn’t it. I believe even the ‘fiancée’ was ‘interviewed’ by a German agent to check their authenticity and she played her part very convincingly well.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The part I’m not clear on is the extent of the secrecy. It was a 1956 film by the same title so the broad brush strokes were obviously not secret, but I guess that didn’t apply to all the details.

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  3. It’s such a fascinating story, isn’t it? I second the recommendation for the book by Ben MacIntyre- it’s on my shelf somewhere. The level of detail that they went to for the subterfuge is pretty amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ll definitely had to read that. One part I left on the proverbial cutting room floor was that the story only came to light at the request of a dying member of the team who pulled off the ruse, in the first place. It was 40 years later and, even then, the whole affair was still super secret. Margaret Thatcher had to personally intervene in order to let this guy read a book manuscript, which had been squelched, in the name of National security. I’d like to learn more about that part of the story.

      Liked by 1 person

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