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Post A WWII British Disinformation Operation: Greece
Created by John Eipper on 12/03/13 3:31 PM

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A WWII British Disinformation Operation: Greece (Paul Pitlick, USA, 12/03/13 3:31 pm)

I'm always a little leery of "correcting" an expert in his field, but in response to Robert Whealey's statement, "I never heard of any Anglo-American plans to invade Greece in 1942" (3 December), there actually was such a "plan," and it's an interesting story in many ways, including German-Spanish relations during the war. I was listening to NPR a few months ago, and they discussed a new book written about a successful British disinformation operation--I don't remember the name of the book, but our friend Wikipedia can help:


In brief, the British dressed up the body of a derelict to look like a diplomat, then handcuffed a valise containing secret "plans" for the army they were amassing in North Africa to invade Greece. They dumped the body off the coast of Spain, and eventually it was found. The British expressed enough interest in the body to make the Spanish think the whole thing was real, but they did allow the Spanish to have enough time with the body to extract the information, which the British figured would then find its way to the Germans.

So, all went according to plan, and the information worked its way up the German chain of command, who apparently believed it. The Germans had troops in Greece, Sardinia and Corsica, and were surprised and unprepared that the Allied target was actually Sicily.

Getting back to the NPR show I heard, after they discussed the book and the story itself, there was a discussion about spies and spying, about how does one decide what to believe. At the end of that discussion, one could only wonder--"How much of the story of 'Operation Mincemeat' is actually true?"

JE comments:  This is what I found:  "Dead Man Floating--World War II's Oddest Operation," from 2010.  The unfortunate stiff was a Welsh laborer who died in London after eating rat poison.  Why would he do that?


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  • Operation Mincemeat and "The Man who Never Was" (John Heelan, UK 12/04/13 1:44 AM)
    Operation Mincemeat (see Paul Pitlick, 3 December) is a well-known WWII plot in the UK today thanks to the 1956 film starring Clifton Webb, The Man who Never Was, and BBC articles such as http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-11887115 . See also the original Montagu book and the more recent Ben McIntyre and Denis Smyth books.

    There is a also good article in the Daily Telegraph on the plot at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-two/6923826/Historian-claims-to-have-finally-identified-wartime-Man-Who-Never-Was.html

    JE comments: Many thanks.  I'm sure Nigel Jones could add some juicy details to this topic.  The Telegraph article above identifies the dead body as that of British sailor Tom Martin, whereas NPR claims he was an indigent Welsh laborer, Glyndwr Michael.

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  • Operation Mincemeat (Robert Whealey, USA 12/04/13 2:06 AM)
    Paul Pitlick (3 December) is correct there was an Operation Mincemeat. But it was not a full-scale operation like Operation Torch, November 1942, or Sea Lion, April or May 1941, which Hitler put in the dead file, or Barbarossa of June 1941. What was missing from the hypothetical invasion plan to invade Greece and the much-different Mincemeat scheme is any date.

    After the Anglo-American armies drove Rommel off the African coast, it was obvious to Rome, London and Berlin that the Allies would next invade Sicily. British naval intelligence in Gibraltar put a fake letter on the body of an already drowned sailor dressed in a British Naval officer's uniform, alleging that the Allies would invade Europe in 1943 through Spain and not Sicily. The body with the fake war plan was found by the Gestapo or Abwehr in Madrid and hopefully would scare Hitler into diverting troops from Kesselring's Italian army to a German unit for Spain, as insurance. The Mincemeat story made a good movie called The Man who Never Was. I never heard that Hitler fell for the British naval bait, so like many stories about intelligence, it makes for exciting literature but real wars are won or lost by the land operation units, not gimmicks.

    JE comments: How about the "gimmick" of breaking the Enigma code?  

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    • Operation Sea Lion, Rommel, et al. (David Pike, France 12/05/13 3:39 AM)
      To Robert Whealey re: WWII (4 December), Sorry, Bob, but you're writing too fast. Sea Lion was not April or May 1941. It was scheduled for 16 August 1940, then rescheduled for 16 September, then rescheduled and finally abandoned in November 1940.

      Also, it was not Rommel who was driven off the African coast. He had been replaced by von Arnim in March 1943. There was to be no Dunkirk for Armeegruppe Afrika (commonly known by its original name Afrika Korps). Hitler knew that, and Rommel was too good to lose.

      JE comments:  That Hitler would have embarked on Sea Lion instead of Barbarossa is probably the most interesting "what if" of WWII, and for 20th-century history in general.  The questions are endless, beginning with the Biggie:  if the Germans had employed against Britain the massive resources they later used against the USSR, would they have succeeded?  And would the Wehrmacht rolling through England have drawn the US into the war a year earlier?

      We're not supposed to do counterfactuals on WAIS, but this one is irresistible.

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      • Could Sea Lion Have Succeeded? No (David Pike, France 12/05/13 12:54 PM)
        When commenting my post of earlier today (5 December), JE asked if Sea Lion could possibly have succeeded. Please view the Sandhurst Military Academy War Games, Op. Sea Lion, featuring three distinguished German military umpires. Sea Lion would have been a total German disaster.

        For starters, try sailing hundreds of thousands of troops across the Channel on Rhine barges that can do just 4 miles an hour.

        JE comments: Yes, they would have been sitting ducks for the RAF and the Royal Navy. A question for our historians: what is the best book on Germany's military planning for Sea Lion?

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  • Operation Mincemeat and Glyndwr Michael (Nigel Jones, UK 12/04/13 6:04 AM)
    John Eipper, responding to Paul Pitlick's 3 December post about the successful British WWII disinformation sting "Operation Mincemeat," asks why the Welsh derelict, Glyndwr Michael, whose body, disguised as the fictitious British Marine "Major Martin" was used to trick the Germans, would commit suicide by eating rat poison.

    In fact, Michael's life, as detailed by writer Ben Macintyre in his gripping account of the affair Operation Mincemeat (highly recommended to WAIS Hispanophiles as well as to those interested in Intelligence in WWII)--was one of unrelieved misery: dire poverty in his native Wales, the early death of his parents, low IQ, TB suffering and long-term unemployment, so that even eating phosphorus-based rat poison must have been a merciful release, though there is a possibility that he was so hungry that he did not realise the stuff was actually rat poison.

    "Mincemeat" was the precursor to a whole raft of Allied deception operations--collectively known as Operation Fortitude--whose object was to deceive the Germans as to the location of the D-day invasion of France. The purpose was to suggest that the invasion would come anywhere but Normandy: the Pas de Calais, the Riviera or the Atlantic coast of France were suggested targets.

    A forthcoming book (published in April) by my friend the Hispanophile writer Jason Webster, The Man With 29 Faces, details the exploits of a key player in Fortitude, the Catalan double agent Juan Pujol, (aka Agent Garbo and many other names) who constructed an entirely fictitious network of agents reporting to his Abwehr bosses, who apparently swallowed them all.

    JE comments:  I knew we could count on Nigel Jones to offer some rich detail!  Jones is a classic Welsh surname.  Can Nigel (or anyone else) guide us on how to pronounce "Glyndwr"?  Like Polish, Welsh never seems to have enough vowels.

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    • How do you Pronounce "Glyndwr"? (Nigel Jones, UK 12/05/13 1:07 PM)
      JE asked (4 December) on the pronunciation of the Welsh name Glyndwr. My paternal ancestors were indeed Welsh hill farmers and I went to boarding school in North Wales, but I never managed to master the language. However, the unfortunate Mr Michael is pronounced Glyn-Dour Michael.

      JE comments: John Heelan also wrote in:

      It is "Glendower" in English pronunciation, probably something like "Gluhnd-oo-r" in Welsh. (But Southern Welsh differs from Northern Welsh!)

      I have often been tempted to learn Welsh so that I could read the excellent poetry in the vernacular, but so far I have only got as far of mangling the words of unofficial Welsh anthems, joining the magnificent crowds of thousands of Welshmen singing at rugby internationals, songs such as such as "Sosban Fach." (See http://www.omniglot.com/songs/welsh/sospan.htm )

      (JE again): My thanks to Messrs Jones and Heelan. In Yankee transliteration, I'll offer this: "Glunndoor." It's interesting that English dialects differ in how they pronounce vowels, whereas in Spanish the variations occur primarily in the consonants.

      History is full of individuals who distinguished themselves by how or why they died.  Poor Mr. Michael is one of the very few whose greatness occurred only after he was already dead.

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  • WWII British Scientific Intelligence: Prof. Reginald Victor Jones (Timothy Ashby, Spain 12/06/13 2:16 AM)
    To follow on the fascinating WAIS postings about WWII British Disinformation Operations, I felt it appropriate to relate the largely unsung work of Professor R. V. Jones.

    Reginald Victor Jones, CH CB CBE FRS (29 September 1911-17 December 1997), was a British physicist and scientific military intelligence expert who is considered one of the main "wizards" of the secret war against Hitler. He developed many of the electronic counter measures (ECM) which helped to defeat the Luftwaffe. Professor Jones solved a number of tough Scientific and Technical Intelligence problems during World War II and is generally known today as the "father of S&T Intelligence."

    After completing a First Class honours degree in physics at Oxford, Jones worked for the Clarendon Laboratory, completing his DPhil in 1934. In 1936 he took up a post at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, a part of the Air Ministry, where he worked on problems associated with defending Britain from air attack.

    When the Second World War started, he became MI6's (today's Secret Intelligence Service) principal scientific adviser. Keeping up his Air Ministry connection for cover, his first important task was to discover how Luftwaffe pilots navigated when they overflew England by night, during the Battle of Britain and the Blitz. He unraveled the Lorenz beam navigation systems they were using, and was sometimes able to jam, sometimes to divert their beams. On the night of the Coventry raid in mid-November 1940, Jones guessed correctly which wavelength they would be using. Unfortunately, a clerical error transmitted the estimated time wrongly to the jamming stations--a matter of seconds--and so helped to account for the raid's terrible destruction and civilian casualties. His daughter told me that her father felt such guilt about not preventing Coventry that he always wore two wristwatches to remind him to double check the time.

    Jones earned the confidence of Churchill by being unabashed about standing up to him. After the War, he became a professor of Natural Philosophy at Aberdeen University. When Churchill returned to office in 1951 he appointed Professor Jones as director of scientific intelligence at the Ministry of Defence--a short-lived posting due to his frustration with the MoD Bureaucracy. He famously said, "intelligence cannot usefully be organised in committees of fairly senior officers who know nothing about the subject in detail."

    On a personal note, although I never had the privilege of meeting Professor Jones, his daughter is my "significant other" and she has told me many stories about her father.

    JE comments:  I envision a film about the intriguing Prof. Jones, and of course this would have to begin with a historical novel.  Hint, hint, Tim!  My vote for the actor to portray Prof. J:  Clive Owen--although at 49, Clive may be a bit long in the tooth to play a 30 year-old whizz kid (Jones's age in 1941).

    Tim Ashby appended a couple of photographs, for my eyes only.  WAISers will have to take my word for it:  Mr. Ashby and Ms. Jones make a very handsome couple!

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  • WWII British Disinformation Operations: Michael Howard's *Strategic Deception in the Second World War* (Harry Papasotiriou, Greece 12/07/13 8:35 AM)

    For anyone interested in British deception operations during WWII (see Paul Pitlick, 3 December), I strongly recommend Michael Howard's carefully argued Strategic Deception in the Second World War.

    JE comments:  The subject line says it all!  Harry's recommendation sounds very interesting.  I presume Howard mentions the genius physicist R. V. Jones, whom Tim Ashby discusses in his post of 6 December.

    Wow, I just realized that this is the Day of Infamy (7 December).  A very appropriate time to discuss historical memory.

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