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Rotting Corpse Fooled Hitler, Changed History: Lewis Lapham

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Lewis Lapham
Lewis Lapham, of "Lapham's Quarterly," in New York. Photographer: Paul Goguen/Bloomberg

Aug. 14 (Bloomberg) -- At first, Hitler was skeptical. “Couldn’t this be a corpse they have deliberately planted on our hands?” he asked the Luftwaffe chief of staff. But the sensitive military information in the dead man’s briefcase reflected his own fears about the Balkans, so the Fuhrer swallowed the bait and moved some crucial troops to Greece and Sardinia.

Hitler was right to be wary. The corpse was part of a British ruse to fool the Nazis into believing the Allies were not going to invade Sicily in July, 1943. Among those planning the operation were Ian Fleming, future author of the James Bond thrillers, and his boss, the model for “M.”

Taking the body of a suicide victim, the British created a new military identity from scratch, including love letters and a stern note from his bank manager regarding an overdraft. In the briefcase attached to the dead man by a chain were realistic communiques from high level officers alluding to the coming invasion.

The corpse was put into an enormous Thermos flask, secretly transported by submarine to the coast of Spain and then released. A young fisherman spotted the decomposing body floating near Huelva, reeled it in and reported it to the authorities.

Keeping the element of surprise, the invasion through Sicily was a turning point in the war. I spoke with Ben Macintyre, author of “Operation Mincemeat,” on the following topics:

1. Creating Nazi Bait

2. Spanish Spy Fest

3. Code Name Garbo

4. On Hitler’s Desk

5. Fake-Out

To listen to the podcast, click here. To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

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