Matthew Macfadyen as Charles Cholmondeley, Flight Lieutenant (temporary), RAF Intelligence and Security Department, seconded to MI5
London, Spring 1943
Film: Operation Mincemeat
Release Date: April 15, 2022
Director: John Madden
Costume Designer: Andrea Flesch
It was 80 years ago this week when a corpse identified as Major William Martin of the Royal Marines was discovered by Spanish fishermen off the Andalusian coast on the morning of Friday, April 30, 1943. Of course, sardine spotter José Antonio Rey María had no idea that the putrefying body in uniform that he brought to shore and delivered to the nearby regiment of Spanish shoulders was not a decorated British officer but instead a pawn in one of the most famous acts of wartime deception, known internally as Operation Mincemeat.
Though formally set in motion about four months earlier, the tactic originated in a memo circulated by Admiral John Godfrey, Director of Naval Intelligence, in September 1939, just weeks after Germany declared war on England. “It was issued under Godfrey’s name, but it more all the hallmarks of his personal assistant, Lieutenant Commander Ian Fleming, who would go on to write the James Bond novels,” alluded author Ben Macintyre in his volume Operation Mincemeat, which was recently adapted into a Netflix film of the same name.
Known as the “Trout Memo” for its metaphor comparing counterespionage to trout fishing, the memorandum offered a total of 51 proposed plans for “introducing ideas into the heads of the Germans.” Listed as number 28 was “A Suggestion (not a very nice one)” which Godfrey and Fleming freely admit was borrowed from colorful author Basil Thomson’s novel The Milliner’s Hat Mystery, consisting of “a corpse dressed as an airman,” with his pockets and belongings detailing falsified plans for an invasion.
While the literary-influenced idea sounds nothing short of fantastic, it found a foothold in “the corkscrew mind” of Charles Cholmondeley, a young, shy, and somewhat eccentric Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve officer who served as secretary for the top-secret XX Committee, so named as the Roman numerals for twenty also form a “double cross”… which should provide some hint into both the type of work conducted by the group as well as the minds that directed it. Continue reading