Anthony Richards
Tuesday 2 October 2018

The new IWM publication The War on Paper tells the story of the Second World War through twenty key documents, each one making a significant difference to the course of the conflict.  Military orders and political agreements determined the nature of fighting between the Allies and Axis, while more personal records would have a direct impact on the fate of individuals and, in some cases, even society itself.

This heavily-illustrated book showcases a wealth of rarely-seen and newly-photographed documents from IWM's archive.  Among the examples included are papers written by and concerning key figures, military leaders and wartime personalities as diverse as Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill, Bernard Montgomery, Odette Sansom VC and Douglas Bader.

One of the documents relating to Operation Mincemeat Documents_026145_D
Documents.26145/C

The War on Paper includes a close look at the planning documents for Operation Mincemeat, a deception conceived by British Intelligence to fool the Germans regarding the true target for the Allied invasion of Sicily. A dead body would be ‘planted’ off the coast of Spain carrying secret documents which purported to reveal that the targets for the forthcoming invasion would be Greece and Sardinia, with Sicily only intended as a feint. To ensure that the Germans swallowed the deception, it was necessary to create a detailed false identity for the body, which in reality was that of a homeless labourer who had died after swallowing rat poison.

The secret operation involved dressing this corpse as a Major in the Royal Marines and giving it the false identity of ‘William Martin’, complete with appropriate identification documents and other papers which would give the body a personality and background. These included a photograph of Major Martin’s fiancée, a receipt for an engagement ring, a theatre ticket stub and other evidence.

Early on 30 April 1943, the body of ‘Major Martin’ was launched into the sea from the British submarine HMS Seraph and left to drift just over a mile off the southern Spanish coast.  Once recovered by the Spanish authorities, the ‘secret’ documents carried on the body were covertly opened, photographed and passed via Nazi sympathizers to German intelligence officers in Spain.

The Germans swiftly acted on the false information by doubling the number of troops sent to Sardinia, while many additional German divisions were also transferred to Greece and the Balkans.  The Allied invasion of Sicily was launched on 9 July 1943 and, as was intended, proved a huge surprise to the German defenders.  In just over a month the island was fully captured by the Allies, and the lack of enemy reinforcements had proven to be a deciding factor in the success. ‘Mincemeat’ had been well and truly swallowed.

To order copies of documents from IWM collections fill in our enquiry form or contact media licensing for high resolution images.