Deception and Death – Linking a Submarine to the Battle of Kursk

Image result for hms seraph
HMS Seraph (Source: http://www.eurasia1945.com/armas/mar/hms-seraph/)

In the early morning light of the 30th of April, 1943, the HMS Seraph surfaced near the Spanish town of Huelva and crewmen retrieved the canister which had been stowed on the torpedo racks since leaving England two weeks earlier. The men had been told that the container held a “weather buoy,” but they were ordered below before they were able to watch the officers extract, prepare, and push overboard the body of “Major Martin”.[1] This simple act – the lynchpin of Operation Mincemeat – involved an corpse, paperwork, and a carefully crafted web of deception proved to be so successful in playing on the paranoias of Adolf Hitler, that it impacted and influenced the impending invasion of Sicily as well as disrupted chances for German reinforcements to arrive at the battle of Kursk months later.[2]

“Made” man… (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Mincemeat)

“Major Martin” was the alias for the body of a man homeless Welshman who had committed suicide earlier that year[3], and it was around this body that the creation of the false identity of a Royal Marine officer, a landing craft specialist, who was acting as a courier and in possession of correspondence when his plane crashed at sea.[4] Included in this subterfuge, were discussions of upcoming plans for an Allied invasion of the Eastern Greek islands from Egypt, as well as rationalization as to Eisenhower’s request for a false invasion to be signaled on Sicily. To lend credibility to the story behind “Major Martin”, handwritten notes from his father, fiancé, and other minor financial receipts were placed on his body and within his belongings to lend a human air of slight irresponsibility and humanity to his persona.[5]

Counting on the well-known fact that Spain was thoroughly infiltrated with German military intelligence, the hopes – and later realities of the plan coalesced as intended. The information possessed by “Major Martin” made its way to Nazi leadership, and once the identity was confirmed – as intended by Lt. Cmdr. Ewen Montagu, the mastermind of the plan – Hitler accordingly began to focus on building up defenses on Sardinia and Corsica, as well as redirecting Field Marshal Erwin Rommel to Athens with panzer divisions from France. Most critical of all of this repositioning of forces, however, was the two panzer divisions sent to Greece from Russia – forces which would have been vital to the Germans in the Battle of Kursk. The deception for which Operation Mincemeat was created was a success. German and Italian defenses left on Sicily were positioned in anticipation for action in the direction of Sardinia to the north. This was all thanks to “Major Martin”, later identified as a Welshman who was “unemployed, homeless, mentally ill… declared unfit for military service” named Glyndwr Michael.[6]

Analysis:

I have always found examples of military deception fascinating, and this one is one of my favorites simply because of the effects such a simple, effective, and successful plan had on the overall strategic outcome of the war. One of the things I did not get an opportunity to highlight due to insufficient resources and/or desire to remain focused on just this one event was the fact that many sources I have read previously attributed this operation to the fact that Germans were extremely reluctant to believe any other supposed intelligence windfalls after this – even if it was a discovery of actual plans.

Another point of interest is that this one story combines several seemingly unrelated aspects – deception, submarines, and the Battle of Kursk – all of which I enjoy reading about. All in all, I think that the two sources used were extremely detailed and well-planned in correlating a broad scope of information into a fascinating story.

Bibliography:

MacAdam, Pat. “Operation Mincemeat Shortened War: It was a Classical Military Hoax, Eclipsing the Trojan Horse, and Chronicled in the Man Who Never was.” The Ottawa Citizen, Nov 11, 1999. Accessed on November 3, 2015. http://search.proquest.com/docview/240312186?accountid=8289.

Zabecki, David. “Undercover: The ‘Man Who Never Was’ Pulled Off One of the Greatest Deceptions in Military History – After His Death”. HistoryNet. May 12, 2006. Accessed October 19, 2015. http://www.historynet.com/the-man-who-never-was-nov-95-world-war-ii-feature.htm


[1] Pat MacAdam, “Operation Mincemeat Shortened War: It was a Classical Military Hoax, Eclipsing the Trojan Horse, and Chronicled in the Man Who Never was.” The Ottawa Citizen, Nov 11, 1999.

[2] David Zabecki, “Undercover: The ‘Man Who Never Was’ Pulled Off One of the Greatest Deceptions in Military History – After His Death”. HistoryNet. May 12, 2006.

[3] MacAdam

[4] Zabecki

[5] Zabecki

[6] MacAdam

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