Questionable History: Operation Mincemeat from a German standpoint



Matthew McFadyen and Colin Firth star as the masterminds of Mincemeat in the 2022 movie.

The recently released movie Operation Mincemeat offers a repeat performance of an older movie The Man Who Never Was to show that the Germans swallowed hook, line and sinker the fake officer washed up on the Spanish coast. The papers he was carrying suggested that the allied landing would be in Greece rather than in Sicily. The Nazis were fooled and thousands of allied lives were saved in the invasion of Sicily as many divisions and artillery had been moved to the Greek islands.

But is it all that simple? German historians have researched the evidence in detail and reveal that the true story is a good deal more complex. Hitler knew very well after the Allies invaded North Africa in 1942 that the next invasion would be in the Mediterranean in mid 1943. Sicily was the obvious favorite as there were numerous bays and beaches, which neighboring Sardinia did not have, to facilitate a mass allied landing. The Germans’ overriding strategic concern was not the likelihood of the Allies landing in Sicily, but that Italy itself might collapse or defect to the Allies – which did in fact happen in mid 1943.

The actual Mincemeat staff seen here at Admiralty House in London in 1943.

The Germans knew very well that the Americans and British were trying to deceive them, although the Abwehr (the German secret service) could not be sure what was true and what wasn’t. Hitler asked General Christian on May 18, “Mayn’t this body be a plant?” after reading of increased American activity around Sicily. Moreover, General Rommel was sent to Greece just before the invasion of Sicily, but this had nothing to do with Mincemeat deception and was to counteract terrorism activities by Greek partisans. Not all troop movements occurred because of Mincemeat issues.

At a military conference on May 14, Hitler told Mussolini that the most likely venue for an attack on Italy would be through Sardinia because it was thinly defended. Moreover the military attaché in Rome phoned Hitler’s headquarters with the message, “You can forget Sicily, we know it will be Greece.” This was the moment when Hitler was temporarily persuaded the invasion would not be Sicily. He was doubtful again on May 18, but by then it was too late effectively to reinforce Sicily.

Admiral Canaris, head of the German secret service, may have had a hand in encouraging Hitler to go wrong on the allied landing plans.

So Operation Mincemeat was successful as part of a wider program to deceive Hitler. The German high command was well aware there was a campaign to trick them and Hitler wavered until it was too late. Moreover, the head of the German secret service Admiral Canaris was anti-Hitler and became part of the plot to assassinate Hitler in July 1944. It is possible that Canaris deliberately steered Hitler into wrong assumptions. The admiral was executed in Flossenberg concentration camp for treason before the end of the war.