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Ian Fleming likely inspiration behind Operation Mincemeat

14-Jan-2010 • Literary

Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, has emerged as the likely inspiration behind Operation Mincemeat, a wartime deception plan worthy of 007 himself - reports The Times.

In 1939, just a few weeks after war was declared, the Naval Intelligence Department issued a top-secret memo to Britain’s intelligence chiefs suggesting that a dead body be used to plant false information with the Germans.

The memo was signed by Admiral John Godfrey, the Director of Naval Intelligence, but it bore all the hallmarks of his personal assistant, Lieutenant-Commander Fleming, who would immortalise Godfrey as “M” in the Bond novels. The memo, revealed in Ben Macintyre’s book Operation Mincemeat, laid out 51 ideas for “introducing ideas into the heads of the Germans” through “deception, ruses de guerre, passing on false information and so on”.

Godfrey, by his own admission, lacked the sort of “corkscrew mind” needed to dream up such strange plots as dropping footballs painted with luminous paint to attract submarines, packing a fake “treasure ship” with commandos, and distributing false information through bogus copies of The Times (“an unimpeachable and immaculate medium”).

Fleming, as his subsequent career made clear to the world, did not. Idea No 28 on the list was headed “A suggestion (not a very nice one)”. It read: “The following suggestion is used in a book by Basil Thomson: a corpse dressed as an airman, with despatches in his pockets, could be dropped on the coast, supposedly from a parachute that had failed. I understand there is no difficulty in obtaining corpses at the Naval Hospital, but, of course, it would have to be a fresh one.”

In 1937, Thomson, a former assistant prime minister of Tonga, spycatcher and writer, published a detective novel (his tenth) entitled The Milliner’s Hat Mystery, in which a dead man is discovered carrying ingeniously forged papers creating an entirely false identity.

Four years later, the plan was put into action by Charles Cholmondeley, working for MI5, and Ewen Montagu, a colleague and friend of Fleming who ran the top secret section 17 M within Naval Intelligence.

Years later, Admiral Godfrey reminded Montagu of the debt, and the origins of Operation Mincemeat.“The bare idea of the dead airman washed up on a beach was among those dozen or so notions which I gave you when 17M was formed,” he wrote.

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