All’s fair in love and war right? That’s what the Allies believed during World War II when they pulled the homeless man decoy – formally called Operation Mincemeat – on the German Army.
What was this spectacular set-up and how did it play out? Keep reading to learn more about the homeless man decoy.
The two masterminds behind this great deception were RAF officers Charles Cholmondeley and Ewen Montagu. Winston Churchill once referred to them as having “corkscrew minds,” but those minds came up with a brilliant way to deceive the Axis Powers.
First, the plan needed a dead body, which Cholmondeley and Montagu obtained from a London coroner. In life, the body belonged to a homeless man from Wales, and it was in just the right condition needed to make the German Army believe it had been in the water for some time. Cholmondeley and Montagu created a completely new identity for the man, providing an elaborate backstory for him. He had fake IDs, papers, photographs letters, bills and receipts all in his name. He became William Martin – a major of the Royal marines – and back home he had a father and a fiancee.
The most important item the dead man carried was in a briefcase chained to his wrist. Inside were official looking documents that detailed a plot by the Allies in North Africa to invade Greece.
All chances of the plot succeeding rested on a German spy named Adolf Clauss. He was station on Spain’s south coast, and he is known for being ruthless and smart, yet extremely gullible. All Cholmondeley and Montagu’s hopes depended on him.
The Homeless Man Decoy
In April 1943, the body of William Martin washed up on the south shores of Spain, right into Adolf Clauss’ hands. When he found the body and read the documents, he was astounded. Here was a detailed account of the Allies’ movements and their plans for an invasion.
Clauss immediately sent the documents along back to Germany where they finally made it into the hands of Adolf Hitler himself. Naturally, Hitler couldn’t believe his luck, and he fell for the decoy completely. He sent his troops to Greece where he thought he would stifle the Allied invasion before it even began.
Of course, when the troops arrived in Greece, the Allies were no where to be found. Instead of invading Greece, the Allies sailed for Sicily where they met much less resistance from the Axis Powers. In July 1943, the Allies launched Operation Husky and invaded Sicily. Even after the operation began, the Germans were still convinced an attack would happen in Greece, so they stayed on the island for another two weeks. By the time German armies began parachuting into Italy, it was too late.
Thanks to the homeless man decoy, thousands of British, Canadian and American lives were saved. Operation Husky became one of the major turning points in World War II, shifting the turn of events in favor of the Allies. After Operation Mincemeat, other attempts to fool the German army were made, but Hitler had learned his lesson.
Today the homeless man decoy remains one of the most successful hoaxes in wartime history. Tell us, what would you have done if you found the documents? Share your thoughts with us!