‘The Corpse that Hoaxed the Germans’

Art from presentation poster including “Maj. Martin’s” ID card, German translation and original British letter to the Admiral of the Fleet. (graphic by Brian Hughes, City of Crestview cultural services specialist)

Library talk, film observe 80th anniversary of World War II exploit

CRESTVIEW, Fla., April 21, 2023—The 80th anniversary of one of the greatest undercover operations of World War II will be observed at the Robert L.F. Sikes Public Library in Crestview at 5 p.m. May 1 with a brief introduction and screening of the 1956 movie, “The Man Who Never Was.”

Called “The Corpse That Hoaxed the Germans,” the presentation is free, open to the public and will be held in the library’s main meeting room.

On April 30, 1943, Maj. William Martin of the Royal Marines went to war and with a briefcase full of “top secret” documents and “pocket litter” including theatre stubs, a bus ticket, a photograph of his “fiancé” and a note from his bank demanding he pay a bank overdraft of almost £80 proving his bonafides.

Unlike most World War II heroes, however, Martin was dead before he floated ashore off the coast of Huelva, Spain. In fact, he was Glyndwr Michael, a Welsh tramp who died from ingesting rat poison. In death, Michael proved to be the perfect ruse to direct the German High Command’s attention from the planned Allied invasion of Sicily.

The plot, called Operation Mincemeat, is chronicled in the film of the same name—albeit with some artistic license taken—released a year ago. Its 1956 predecessor to be shown at the Crestview library was based on the post-war book by Capt. Ewen Montagu, the former British Intelligence officer who spearheaded the deception.

The idea came from scheme number 28 in what became known as the “trout memo” issued by British Intelligence head Rear Admiral John Godfrey but was almost certainly written by his assistant, Lt. Cmdr. Ian Fleming (author of the James Bond books), called “A Suggestion (not a very nice one),” according to historian Ben Macintyre.

When “Maj. Martin” went to war, a Spanish sardine fisherman found him floating off the country’s southwest coast. Turned over to local authorities, he came to the attention of German intelligence agents, who, with great care, copied his “top secret” documents before turning the corpse over to British diplomatic staff.

As proven by examination of German High Command documents after the war, the false information went all the way to German leader Adolf Hitler’s headquarters who directed German forces be diverted to Greece.

As history later showed, the Allied invasion of Sicily was a success.

Brian Hughes, City of Crestview cultural services specialist

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s