BOCCONI DI STORIA: Operazione cadavere

🇮🇹 Per la versione italiana clicca qui.

The story begins in the autumn of 1942 in the United Kingdom. The invasion of North Africa was steadily progressing towards success. The next step in the war plan would be landing in Sicily. The Germans must have expected the island to be the next target, but what to do to convince them otherwise and induce them to scatter their forces? Why not abandon a corpse in Spanish waters, with forged documents, as if from a crashed plane? German agents would find the fake papers on the dead body, once it had reached the coast of Spain.

The main character of the story is a man who had just died of pneumonia. Pneumonia causes fluid to be present in the lungs. Then, it is perfect for simulating death by drowning. The deceptive documents were to be issued by a very high authority. Lieutenant-General Sir Edward Archibald Nye, Vice Chief of the British Imperial General Staff, was chosen to write a letter. The unwitting General Alexander, commander of the 18th Africa Group, was to receive it. Sir Nye, in the letter, indicated two false spots as targets for a possible invasion: one in Greece and one somewhere in the western Mediterranean, probably in Sardinia. What was missing was just a new identity for the corpse. The chosen name was William Martin, a major in the Royal Marines, a young officer of great ingenuity, skilled in landing craft. In his wallet was a photograph and two folded letters from his pretty girlfriend Pam, as well as a bill for ÂŁ53 for an engagement ring and the usual personal effects. The preparations for the deception were now complete.

With the approval of Prime Minister Churchill, the plan began. The body of Major William Martin was pushed into the water at 4.30 a.m. on 30th April 1943, 1500 metres off Huelva, a small port in southwestern Spain. On the morning of 30th April, a fisherman found him close to shore. The autopsy conducted by the Spanish authorities confirmed death by asphyxiation due to immersion in the sea. While the British Army made a formal request for all the documents found, the German agent in Huelva managed to copy them and inform his superiors. At the same time, the major’s name was added to the Times’ list of fallen soldiers, while Pam sent a wreath to place on the tombstone.

The successful landing in Sicily in July proved that the stratagem had succeeded. Fourteen days after the body was found, the war diary of Reich Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz reported that the General Staff had confirmed the authenticity of the documents. The German High Command transferred an entire armoured division from France to the Peloponnese and ordered to place a minefield off the Greek coast. In the west, Marshal Wilhelm Keitel ordered the reinforcement of Sardinia and sent an armoured unit to Corsica. Hitler himself must have seen the documents because Grand Admiral Dönitz wrote: “The Führer does not believe that the most likely point of an invasion is Sicily. In his opinion, the discovered Anglo-Saxon documents confirm that the attack will be directed mainly against Sardinia and the Peloponnese.”


Vv.Aa., 1960. Storie segrete dell’ultima guerra. III ed. Milan: Selezione Reader’s Digest.


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