There has been a trend to reassess the significance of many wartime ‘successes’ in the cold light of hindsight unaffected by post-war euphoria and jingoism. Thus, for example, the emergence of the ‘Dunkirk Myth’ (in fact the vast majority of the troops were taken off the moles by Royal Navy warships), and the questioning of the effectiveness of the Dam Buster raids (only one of the three dams was breached).

Inevitably, Ewen Montagu’s presentation of the success of Operation MINCEMEAT as ‘swallowed whole’ in ‘The Man Who Never Was’ and saving thousands of lives has been subjected to scrutiny, principally by German historian  Klaus-Jurgen Muller, Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at the University of the Bundeswehr and at Hamburg State University, in 1987.

Montagu, in TMWNW and the official files, cites German documents which showed that:

Montagu claimed that, as a result:

  1. The defence of Sicily was shifted from the south (the area of the actual landings) to the west and north (which would be the area threatened by Sardinia).
  2. The First German Panzer Division was sent from France all the way to Tripolis in the Peloponnese,
  3. By 20th May the German Navy laid minefields off Greece, established R boat stations and shore batteries, and the First R-boat Group was sent from Sicily to the Aegean in early June.
  4. A panzer force was sent to Corsica in June.
  5. Even when the landings took place on 10th July the German High Command believed it to be a diversion and expected the main assault to be on Corsica and Sardinia.
  6. Only on 12th July did they accept it was the main assault, and that Sardinia and the Peloponnese were not threatened until it resolved.
  7. Hitler still believed the documents were real on 23rd July when he appointed Rommel C-in-C of the reinforced Greece.

Professor Muller published  “A German Perspective on Allied Deception Operations in the Second World War” concentrating on Montagu’s and later intelligence historian’s accounts of MINCEMEAT – in ‘Intelligence and National Security’, Vol 2 No 3 of July 1987 pp 301-326, and there is an extensive editorial analysis of his paper on pp 69-82. In Vol 3 No 1 of January 1988 pp 190-194 the late Sir David Hunt (who knew members of Montagu’s team well and discussed it with them after the war) responded.

The arguments are detailed and involved, and anyone interested should read the articles, but in summary Professor Muller argued that it is not enough to show military movements occurred, without detailed research in the German archives to demonstrate a cause and effect link to MINCEMEAT, which had not been done (and probably still has not).

He claimed that:

The critiques of his paper point out that actually MINCEMEAT was just the final touch to a much bigger deception, Plan BARCLAY, (secret when Montagu wrote and only declassified recently, thus allowing Montagu to foster the impression that MINCEMEAT was all there was), composed of a long and meticulous build up by Dudley Clarke’s ‘A’ Force, over many months if not years, of a complete false order of battle in North Africa, which created a completely notional 12th Army and led the Germans to believe our strength was 50-100% greater than it was.

Only this made the purported three widely spaced simultaneous landings of MINCEMEAT credible. They agree that it was this that the German strategic plans were responding to, not MINCEMEAT. Indeed MINCEMEAT is not mentioned in Plan BARCLAY – it was in the nature of a minor private venture by Naval Intelligence which was only ‘adopted by the Controller of Deception’ after the body had landed.

Sir David Hunt quoted Hitler at his Naval Conference on 14th May saying “I do not agree with the Duce that the most likely invasion point is Sicily. Furthermore I believe that the discovered Anglo-Saxon order confirms the assumption that the planned attacks will be directed mainly against Sardinia and the Peloponnese”, and also recounts how Jodl interrupted a telephone call from the German Military Attaché in Rome with “You can forget Sicily, we know it is Greece!” – so MINCEMEAT certainly went all the way up to Hitler’s desk and initially he believed it. By the time he had doubts on May 18th, 4 days later, Hunt claimed it was too late to effectively reinforce Sicily.

Hunt agreed that MINCEMEAT didn’t change the German strategic appreciations, but on the contrary was designed to reinforce them (one of the first principles of deception) – to confirm what they already believed as a result of BARCLAY. He agreed it was BARCLAY that saved the thousands of lives (and by implication that MINCEMEAT has been over-hyped).

So MINCEMEAT was not as pivotal to the war as Montagu claimed for the next 40 years.