While doing a little research for an idea for a novel that takes place during WWII, I came across the story of Operation Mincemeat. If you have never heard of this story be prepared for one amazing story.
After the Allies defeated the vaulted German Africa corps in WWII, they soon set their sites on Europe and in particular, Sicily. Control of Sicily would open the Mediterranean to Allied shipping and allow the invasion of continental Europe. Planning for Operation Husky and the invasion of Sicily began. The problem for the Allies was the belief that the Germans knew Sicily would be where the invasion would occur. As Churchill commented: “Everyone but a bloody fool would know that it’s Sicily.”
But, if the Allies could deceive the Germans and make them think the attack was actually going to take place in Greece, then the Germans might divert some significant part of their forces, which would help the invasion succeed. But how to create such a diversion.
Enter Ian Fleming.
Yes, that Ian Fleming. The man who would eventually write the James Bond novels. Ian Fleming, in the late 1930s, was a young assistant to the head of British Naval Intelligence. He came upon a mystery novel entitled, The Milliner’s Hat Mystery (1937) by Sir Basil Thomson. Fleming was transfixed by the premise of novel. A body is found whose identity, reconstructed from his personal effects, turns out to be a complete fabrication. In 1939, Fleming was asked to suggest numerous devices to deceive the Germans, one of which included the Thomson’s premise: a corpse carrying fabricated documents would be dropped by parachute on a German-occupied coast.
When the British began to lay out a plan of deception, they remembered Ian Fleming’s idea. Two Brits in particular, Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu and Royal Air Force Flight Lieutenant Charles Cholmondeley, came up with a plan. Instead of a parachuted corpse, they would use the ruse of an Officer who washes up on a beach following his death by drowning in a plane crash at sea, with fabricated papers alleging Greece as the invasion location. The hard part was now to find a body that could not only trick the Germans, but also would have no family members asking questions or looking for their loved one. A British pathologist advised them that the best chance of deceiving the Germans with a pre-deceased corpse lay in using one that had died of pneumonia, which would produce effects sufficiently consistent with death by drowning. Finding a suitable corpse proved almost insurmountable.
But then a Welsh, homeless tramp, Glyndwr Michael, died from ingesting rat poison, without any known relatives. The rat poison mirrored the effects of pneumonia. Montagu and Cholmondeley had their body.
Montage and Cholmondeley transporting the body
The body was quickly put on ice. The Brits knew they had three months to act before the body would decompose too badly to use. Now the story telling began. Like great novel witers, they began to create the life story of Major William Martin.
Gleyndwr Michael – or his corpse to be more correct – became a major in the Royal Marines named William Martin. An entire life was fabricated for Major Martin. Letters from his father, bank manager and girlfriend, theater ticket stubs, a wallet, outstanding bills, various forms of identification, and so on were all forged with great care and put on his person. He even had a picture of his girlfriend. “Pam” – who in reality was a young MI5 clerk. A death notice was put in the English paper to make it all look authentic.
“Fake ID for WILLIAM MARTIN”
“Fake Death Notice”
On top of the personal effects, came the whole reason for the deception. Fabricated letters written and signed by the Britsih high command addressed to senior allied commanders in North Africa, were placed in a briefcase attached by a chain to “Major Martin.” The letters discussed in detail an upcoming invasion of Greece and Sardinia, with Sicily being a decoy target.
On April 19, 1943, under the codename Operation Mincemeat, plans kicked into action. It was time to put Major Martin out ot sea to hopefully be found by the Germans. The body of Major William Martin was loaded on board the HMS Seraph, a British submarine. In the early morning of April 30th, she arrived at a point about a mile off the coast of Spain, near the town of Huelva. Seraph surfaced. The crew fitted “Major Martin” with a life jacket, and attached his briefcase with the papers.
“Major William Martin”
The Captain of the Seraph read Psalm 39, and then the body was gently pushed into the sea where the tide would bring it ashore.
Half a mile to the south, a rubber dinghy was thrown overboard to provide additional ‘evidence’ of a plane crash. The body was found at around 9:30 by a local fisherman, José Antonio Rey Maria, and was taken to Huelva and turned over to the local military, and as thought would happen by the Allies, who turned everything over to the Nazis in Spain.
The Nazis copied all the papers and then returned the original papers and the body back to Britain. With copies of the papers enroute to Berlin, the body of Major William Martin was buried, with full military honors, at a cemetery in Huelva, Spain.
Meanwhile, when the British received the original papers back, it was obvious they had been opened. A wire was sent to Churchill: “Mincemeat swallowed rod, line and sinker.”
In possession of the copied papers, Adolf Hitler became convinced of the veracity of the bogus documents, and insisted that any attack against Sicily would be a feint, with the real invasion taken place in Greece. He ordered the majority of his troops to defend Greece, pulling his forces from Sicily. The renowned general Erwin Rommel was sent to Greece to assume overall command. Operation Mincemeat was an overwhelming success.
On July 9th, the Allies invaded Sicily in Operation Husky. The Allies stormed through Sicily, meeting only minimal resistance. Major William Martin had won the day.
It was not until 1953 that the story of Operation Mincemeat was finally revealed in the book called The Man Who Never Was.
A film of the same name was made in 1956.
The gravestone reads, “William Martin, born 29 March 1907, died 24 April 1943, beloved son of John Glyndwyr Martin and the late Antonia Martin of Cardiff, Wales.” The Latin phrase, Dulce et Decorum est pro Patria Mori. RIP, translates as “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”
It was not until 1998 that the British Government revealed Michael’s true identity. At that point, the gravestone was amended to read, “Glyndwr Michael; Served as Major William Martin, RM.” The grave is a fitting tribute to Glyndwr Michael and his alternate identity; Major William Martin: the man who never was.
Italian Historical Fiction Author
I must say. Not a bad view this morning while working on my next novel.
On July 24th, Giuseppe di Stefano would have celebrated his 96th birthday.
Giuseppe, or Pippo, as he was affectionately called, was one of the world’s leading tenors in the 1950s.
Born in Sicily, he reached the pinnacle of the opera world, singing at all over the world, including the Met and La Scala, where he was often paired with the great soprano, Maria Callas.
His recordings of operas are both fantastic and famous, with his 1953 Tosca with Callas and Gobbi sometimes labeled the greatest opera recording of all time.
Giuseppe had perfect diction and sang with unbridled emotion. However, where he really stood apart from other tenors was in Neapolitan songs. Here, when he sang those beautiful songs, one could fill the Mediterranean sun and hear the waves along the shore.
Here is a quick example.
In celebration of his life, find a recording or do a search on You Tube, and just listen to a God given voice.
Italian Historical Fiction Author
Below is a great table that sets forth phrases you can substitute in for the word “very” which really makes your writing sparkle. Also check out their website at ProofreadingServices.com.
I am so exited about the release of a biography on the life of Arturo Toscanini- released as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of his birth. It was written by a great writer- Harvey Sachs.
A true musical giant. He knew Verdi and Puccini. Was the darling of La Scala.
A man of courage in his convictions, I can’t wait to dive into his story.
I will be sure to post a review of this monumental biography once done.
Autbor of Tempesta’s Dream and A Song for Bellafortuna
On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress approved the resolution offered by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia. It was seconded by John Adams.
Resolved: That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.
The very next day, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail and predicted for all future generations of Americans how important Independence Day would be.
The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.—I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.
Adams would be two days off from his prediction, however.
Adams was on the committee of five members of Congress to draft a document setting forth the reasons for independence. Thomas Jefferson was given the task of writing such a document. This Declaration was debated, edited and then, on July 4, 1776, was voted on and approved, a document that eloquently articulated the reasons why the colonies had separated from the British Empire. The Declaration would not be signed until August, however, going forward, America began celebrating Independence Day on the 4th of July.
In a twist of fate, 50 years to the day of passing the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both passed away on July 4, 1826.
Here is my Sicilian secret regarding olive oil -passed down from my grandparents.
Castelvetrano, Sicily is home to world famous olives. From those olives is produced the greatest olive oil you can buy. Olio Castelvetrano tastes great on anything, especially salads.
Once you taste this olive oil, you will never use another kind ever again.
I grew up with the voice of Mario Lanza always being played at my home. The tenor from South Philly became a Hollywood star, giving up a career on the opera stage.
He did sing in an opera only one time – yep in good ole New Orleans.
Here is a picture of Lanza in his dressing room on the night of his professional operatic debut (as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly), New Orleans Municipal Auditorium, April 8, 1948.
My grandmother was in attendance that night and always said that the label that his voice was not big enough for the opera house was completly false. His voice soared over the entire house that night and was beautful.
As I attempted to show in my article on Bel Canto, that style of singing in opera was eloquent, structured, with long melodic lines.
However, tastes change. Around the turn of the century, a new fad was taking hold in the literary world. Naturalism or as it became known in Italy, Verismo, now looked for true, realistic and contemporary storytelling. No longer were stories about Gods, mythological figures, or Kings and Queens. But instead, the protagonists would be real people in real situations, such as a woman working in a cigarette factory or a Diva pursued by the Chief of Police, or a story based on a real trial of a clown in a traveling show.
Emile Zola and Giovani Verga were the famous authors of this literary movement. And then, in 1875, along came Bizet’s opera, Carmen, and one can say Verismo in opera was born.
No longer was there the long elegant melodic lines, but instead a passionate, declamatory style of singing was born.
Here is a clip of Carmen showing this passionate style.
The Carmen here was Agnes Baltsa and Don Jose, the Spanish tenor, Jose Carreras. They sang these two roles all over the World.
One could say Carmen was the antecedent to Verismo, which soon took complete hold on the opera world of Italy. Here the young Italian opera composers, such as Puccini, Mascagni, Giordano, and Leoncavallo, would fundamentally change opera. Of course, Verdi and Wagner were influences, but these composers made Verismo their own style.
No longer were the composers creating works with set pieces and recitative and in a very structured way, but instead, the entire work was a seamless musical composition.
Puccini’s Tosca is one great example of Verismo. Real passion with people struggling with life’s issues. Here is a clip from the conclusion of Act 1.
Sherrill Milnes is spectacular in this role; don’t you agree?
The two works that really are the heart and soul of Verismo is Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci. So much so, these short one act operas by Mascagni and Leoncavallo respectively have been joined in performance almost from inception.
“The author has tried to paint for you a glimpse of life” — So says Tonio in the Prologue and with those words the composer has really provided to the listener the entire goal of the Verismo movement.
Here is Pavarotti singing one of the most famous arias from Pagliacci.
The verismo style also changed the way singers sang opera. Now, a more spoken style of singing was introduced. Florid singing was out, and a more, let’s call it, heart on your sleeve style of singing was put forth.
Perhaps, the great tenor, Enrico Caruso, is the best example of this unabashed style. Here is a short clip for you to view.
Recorded in 1905, his miraculous voice still shines through the dim recording.
Verismo lasted until the early 20s. One could say with the death of Puccini, so died Verismo. A short lived style of opera, but one that still brings much excitement and joy to those of us still listening today.
Author of Tempesta’s Dream and A Song for Bellafortuna.