Ewen Montagu: The ‘Operation Mincemeat’ Mastermind

ewen montagu

Netflix A Netflix promotional image for "Operation Mincemeat."

Ewen Montagu was the mastermind behind World War II military plot Operation Mincemeat. The military operation served as the inspiration for the Netflix film of the same name.

Montagu was a naval intelligence officer during WWII, and went on to become an English judge. His father, Louis Montagu, was a “non-observant Jew” and a merchant banker, according to Haaretz.

Here’s what you need to know:

Montagu Wrote ‘The Man Who Never Was’ Which Was Made Into a 1956 Movie

Montagu wrote his account of the military operation in his 1953 book, “The Man Who Never Was.” The book was adapted into a 1956 movie starring Clifton Webb and Gloria Grahame. He had a small cameo role in the film, according to Haaretz.

Mantagu married Iris Solomon, daughter of the painter Solomon Joseph Solomon, in 1923, Haaretz reported. Montagu was certified as an attorney in 1924. He was also an experienced yachtsman, and enlisted with the naval reserve in 1938 when he anticipated war was on the horizon.

“Imaginative and skilled from his years as a criminal attorney in strategy and psychological brinkmanship, Montagu was a natural for counterintelligence work,” Haaretz reported. “Operation Mincemeat, which he devised together with Charles Cholmondeley (pronounced “Chumly”) in 1943 – and based on an idea proposed by another creative spy named Ian Fleming – involved convincing the Germans that a widely anticipated Allied invasion of southern Europe (Operation Husky) would begin with an attack on Sardinia and Greece, rather than Sicily, the natural target.”

Montagu Wrote in His Book That Glyndwr Michael Died From Pneumonia & That They Had Permission to Use His Body in the Plot

In Montagu’s book, “The Man Who Never Was,” he wrote Glyndwr Michael died from pneumonia and the government gave permission to use the body. Michael was buried with military honors as Maj. William Martin. It was not until 1996 that his true identity was revealed, and an inscription was added to his tombstone in 1998.

The LA Times reported that officers worked with coroner Bentley Purchase and took the body from a morgue, according to Ben Macintyre, who wrote the book that served as the basis for the movie, “Operation Mincemeat: The True Spy Story That Changed the Course of World War II.”

“Basically, they just lifted the body. They believed that nobody would claim it. They believed he had no family. They were wrong about that. They just thought they could get away with stealing the body. It’s as simple as that,” Macintyre told the LA Times. “The whole thing is macabre and absurd. But one of the reasons the film works so well, I think, is there is a kind of absurd element to it. And that is very true to life. Because the reality is that Montagu and Cholmondeley and the other people involved in this, they were fully aware that there was something ridiculous about what they were doing, which is what gives the film great tension.”

Many of the moments that the Netflix film strayed from truth were at times when the showrunners wanted to convey the human elements behind the story. Some of the embellishments were speculation, and some were pure conjuring, Madden told the LA Times. But he said that relying fully on the historical account would have resulted in a highly technical film.

Among the additions was the fictional sister of Glyndwr Michael. On the film, she is told of her brother’s death, but no siblings appeared in the historical account. Writer Michelle Ashford added the sister to convey the humanity of Michael, and to emphasize that he was a real person, not a prop in a plot.

“[It was important] to really try and find in the movie the messiness of war,” Ashford told the LA Times. “The fact that they need to do this, but there’s consequences if you just steal a person and stuff them in a life jacket and throw them in the water. I loved that part of the story because I found it complicated and poignant and curious. The sister showing up was a fictionalized element of the story. But he had some family, somewhere. So to make that person appear [is] representative of the fact that that guy came from somewhere.”

READ NEXT: Operation Mincemeat: The True Story Behind the Netflix Film

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