The use of deception in warfare is as old as the Trojan Horse. Throughout the ages, combatants have tricked the enemy to gain tactical and strategic advantages. In my opinion, the sophisticated disinformation campaigns used by the Allies during the Second World War are unrivaled in history.
One of my favorite World War II examples of such trickery was “Operation Mincemeat” – a 1943 British Intelligence plan to deceive the Axis powers into thinking Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily, would take place elsewhere. The operation inspired the 1950s book and film titled The Man Who Never Was.
The Brits found a suitable corpse (a homeless Welsh laborer who died of rat poisoning in a London hospital), established an identity for the dead man as an officer called “Major Martin,” and floated the body just off the coast of Spain. They equipped poor “Major Martin” with military identification and letters in his pockets describing a forthcoming Allied invasion of Greece.
Operation Mincemeat was extraordinarily successful. The German high command moved divisions away from Sicily to guard against attacks on Greece and Sardinia. The Allied invasion of Sicily met with minimal resistance, and planned German offensives on the Eastern Front were cancelled in order to reinforce Italy.
I love the fact that the idea for Operation Mincemeat came originally from Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond. Before he devoted his life to Agent 007, Fleming worked as an assistant to the head of British Naval Intelligence and he suggested the bold plan, which he admitted was based on a detective novel he had read.
After completion of the operation, British Intelligence reported to Churchill: “Mincemeat swallowed hook, line and sinker” – a line worthy of 007.