Dubious history: Operation Mincemeat from a German perspective

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

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

But is it so simple? German historians have studied the evidence in detail and reveal that the true story is much more complex. Hitler knew very well after the Allied invasion of North Africa in 1942 that the next invasion would take place in the Mediterranean in mid-1943. Sicily was the clear favorite as it had many bays and beaches, which the Neighboring Sardinia had not, to facilitate an allied mass. landing. The overriding strategic concern of the Germans was not the likelihood of the Allies landing in Sicily, but that Italy itself might collapse or defect to the Allies – which in fact happened in mid-1943.

Current Mincemeat staff seen here at Admiralty House in London in 1943.

The Germans knew very well that the Americans and the British were trying to deceive them, even though the Abwehr (the German secret service) could not be sure what was true and what was not. Hitler asked General Christian on May 18, “Couldn’t this body be a plant?” after reading about the increase in American activity around Sicily. Also, General Rommel was sent to Greece just before the invasion of Sicily, but it had nothing to do with the mincemeat deception and was meant to counter the terrorist activities of Greek partisans. Not all troop movements took place due to ground meat issues.

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

Admiral Canaris, head of the German secret service, may have helped encourage Hitler to be mistaken about the Allied landing plans.

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

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