A new film is released in UK cinemas this week that tells the true story of Operation Mincemeat – a hugely successful World War Two deception mission that played a crucial role in turning the tide of the war.


Several aspects of the plot – from the plan itself to the involvement of one Ian Fleming – seem almost too fantastical to be based on real events, but for the most part, the film is indeed a factual account of the operation, albeit with a couple of embellishments.

Read on for everything you need to know about the true story behind Operation Mincemeat.

Is Operation Mincemeat based on a true story?

Yes, Operation Mincemeat was very much a real mission – and has often been hailed as one of the most successful deception operations in military history.

As is depicted in the film, the operation saw two members of the British intelligence services – Charles Cholmondeley (Matthew Macfadyen) and Ewen Montagu (Colin Firth) – obtain a dead body that would be used to trick their German adversaries into believing an Allied attack on Greece was imminent.

More like this

After creating an entire persona for a fictional captain, they dressed the body as an officer of the Royal Marines and placed personal items on him that would identify him as an officer, including a letter that made reference to the fictitious attack.

After transporting him to the southern coast of Spain by submarine, they then ensured the body – and as such the letter – would fall into the hands of German intelligence, such that the enemy would reposition their troops to Greece and allow the Allies to go ahead with their planned Sicilian campaign with minimal resistance.

"What the deceivers had to do was to try to persuade the Germans that black was white and white was black," explains Ben MacIntyre, who wrote the bestselling non-fiction book on which the film is based. "And they did this in the most extraordinary way. It now sounds like it comes straight out of fiction, which is exactly where it came from."

As for how much of an impact the operation had, screenwriter Michelle Ashford says that it "changed the course of the war".

"If the Allies had not been able to access Europe, they would have been sunk," she explains. "At that time, Europe was very heavily defended by the Germans. If the British had not been successful with Operation Mincemeat, there would have been a ghastly bloodbath. Without that brilliant plot, there is no way they would have won the war."

Who was Major William Martin in Operation Mincemeat?

Operation Mincemeat
Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen in Operation Mincemeat WB

Major William Martin was the name given to the fictional soldier invented for the operation, but no such person actually existed in real life – he was entirely fabricated by British intelligence services.

The body that supposedly belonged to Major Martin was actually the corpse of Glyndwr Michael, a man who had become homeless after moving to London from Wales – and whose real identity was only publicly revealed in 1996. Michael died at the age of 34 shortly after he had ingested rat poison that contained phosphorus.

The scene in the film in which Michael's sister arrives and confronts the intelligence officers about using the body appears to have been fictionalised – Ben Macintyre earlier explained that no known relatives were ever found.

Is the Operation Mincemeat love triangle based on fact?

Operation Mincemeat
Kelly Macdonald and Matthew Macfadyen in Operation Mincemeat WB

One of the subplots that plays a prominent part in the film is the love triangle that develops between Jean Leslie (Kelly Macdonald), Montagu, and Cholmondeley – the latter two of whom both fall in love with Jean.

"A huge affection develops between these two men," explains Colin Firth. "But they are both in love with Jean. Jean cares for both of them, so it becomes this very, very complex tussle of unresolved and unexpressed emotions, which is fed by the very high stakes they are operating in and this tiny, compressed, cloistered environment. They are thrown so closely together in a common cause."

There is no firm evidence that this love triangle is based on fact – but Macintyre has hinted that Montagu and Jean could well have developed real feelings for each other over the course of the operation.

"Whether the imagined courtship between 'Bill' and 'Pam' was ever more than merely flirtatious banter is unknown, and likely to remain that way," he previously explained. "Certainly Ewen was 'smitten' with Jean (her word), and they both played along with their allotted roles.

"Wartime Britain was filled with fear and danger, but for those in the spying game, it was also a time of great excitement and romance," he added. "If the imagined love affair overlapped with reality, that would fit with the story, in which the framers invented a deception so real they began to believe it themselves."

While it's possible that there was some truth to these sections of the film, then, it seems that the romance angle has been embellished for dramatic effect.

Was Ewen Montagu's brother really a Russian spy?

Another key subplot concerns John Godfrey's (Jason Isaacs) accusations that Montagu's brother Ivor (Mark Gatiss) was a Russian agent – with the Rear Admiral enlisting Charles Cholmondeley to spy on Montagu during the operation.

The eccentric Ivor – who, as mentioned in the film, was the founder of the International Table Tennis Federation – was indeed a committed communist who briefly worked as a Russian agent, although it's believed his impact was relatively limited.

It's also true that MI5 was deeply suspicious of Ivor – believing his table tennis interests to be a cover – and even went so far as to tap his phone.

There's no evidence, however, that Cholmondeley was spying on Montagu during Operation Mincemeat, and so it appears that this element of the film was created for dramatic purposes.

Was Ian Fleming really involved with Operation Mincemeat?

Ian Fleming Operation Mincemeat
Johnny Flynn plays Ian Fleming in Operation Mincemeat WB

Yes, James Bond author Ian Fleming (Johnny Flynn), who was then a Lieutenant Commander, really did have a role in the operation – even coming up with the inspiration for the plot before it was further developed by Cholmondeley and Montagu.

According to Macintyre, "the plot... came originally from a novel by a man called Basil Thompson. No one reads Thompson anymore. But someone who did was Ian Fleming.

"He was the assistant to Admiral Godfrey, who was the head of Naval Intelligence during the war and later became the model for M in the James Bond stories," he adds. "Fleming proposed the idea from Thompson's novel to Godfrey. And so this idea was born almost entirely out of fiction. It came from novels."

"Ian Fleming is pivotal to the whole story of Operation Mincemeat," explains producer Emile Sherman. "He is our narrator, but he is also in real life the person who put together the original Trout Memo.

"Within the memo was the idea of deceiving Hitler through the use of a dead body carrying papers, which is picked up and run with by the characters in our story. It's incredibly fun to see a pre-Bond Ian Fleming, living his life and being part of the war effort with all the weight of what he was going to become.”

Operation Mincemeat is in UK cinemas now. Visit our Film hub for more news, interviews and features, or find something to watch now with our TV Guide.


The latest issue of Radio Times is on sale now – subscribe now to get each issue delivered to your door. For more from the biggest stars in TV, listen to the Radio Times podcast with Jane Garvey.