How a Dead Man Tricked the Nazis and Became a War Hero

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>>Today’s episode is
brought to you by Roman.>>Head on over to Sign up right now and get
a free two-day shipping. And take care of that thing.>>Yeah, you don’t have
to go to the witch doctor. You don’t have to do the
thing with the Tabasco sauce.>>Quit living in the past.>>Okay, best case scenario
for what happens to your corpse after you die. What do you want to
happen? What’s the dream?>>My fingernails are harvested
and made into precise nubs, and the world’s greatest calligrapher writes a letter of thank you to me.>>Man, that is so weird. [laughter]>>Why? What were you going to say?>>I don’t know.
>>Oh, I want to donate a kidney.>>No, no, I want everyone at the services to be armed with guns. And then, at a moment during the services, I rise up, animatronics all inside me, and I start attacking the
people at the funeral, and they have to gun me down. I hope you’ll be there.
>>And then you’ll present them with a writ from the grave
written with my fingernails.>>See, somehow, me being a
robotic zombie is less weird than this, whatever you’re doing. Why are you acting like a
doctor with your beady eyes? [laughter]>>Alright, so you’re in the
middle of fighting World War II. You’re Harry S. Churchill,
the S stands for Stalin–>>I remember him.>>And you want to really
stick up the gooch of the Axis. The best target, the most
obvious one, is Sicily, but you’re thinking like,
“Even Hitler could figure out “that that’s the most obvious target.”>>It was super obvious.>>Is there a way to still attack Sicily, but just get them to think
you’re headed somewhere else?>>You need a Haversack ruse.>>A Haversack ruse? What does this mean?
>>A Haversack ruse. That is where you plant
sensitive information on the corpse of one of your own soldiers, hoping that the enemy will find it and think that it’s
legitimate information.>>Kind of like a honey pot, right? Where it’s like, they think
they have a treasured find, and instead it’s poisoned.>>Exactly.
>>Poisoned honey.>>But there are a lot of moving parts, and they got the inspiration
from the Trout Memo, a memo on deception in warfare written by Admiral John Godfrey, but it bares all the hallmarks
of his personal assistant, who everyone suspects actually
wrote it, Ian Fleming.>>Ian Fleming, who
later created James Bond.>>Yes, exactly, he was a secret agent. Make no mistake, this guy knew
what he was talking about. So they used one of the
ideas in the Trout Memo as the basis for Operation Mincemeat. [suspenseful music]>>Operation Mincemeat,
you begin with the idea, we’re going to plant some
information on a corpse. We’re going to hope that
the Nazis truly figure that they’ve discovered it on their own. So many things you’ve got to figure out. First, you start with the backstory, which means immediately,
you come up with a name and a title. What was the guys name?>>Jason: They came up with
Captain William Martin, and you know why they did that?>>Brian: Oh, because Martin
is a very popular surname, and it would be harder to track down.>>Exactly, so if German intelligence found this body that they left with this Captain William Martin, they’re going to check the records and find any sort of information, and find out that, yeah, sure,
there are lots of Martins and this isn’t a made up person at all.>>So at this point, you’re
spending months and months of people essentially writing letters to themselves to and from, like, “How goes your travels,” and whatever, and you’re working on this,
building up the backstory, because they don’t know,
necessarily, what communications are being intercepted at any given time. But they want to build up a backstory, so that when they find this person, they’re like, “Yeah, of
course he’s a real person. “We’ve been intercepting
his stuff for years.”>>Yeah, they created this
fully realized human being that never existed.>>At some point, you got to
put the operation into action, which means, you got to find a body. Now, bodies are not in
short supply, you’re at war.>>It’s World War II,
there are a lot of them.>>But they’re all very well cataloged, so you need a very
particular type of body. It has to be somebody that looks vaguely like the identification that you have, has to be somebody that
won’t be missed or cataloged, and in fact, when they
first did find the body, it turned out to be a homeless person. They categorized him at the time as sort of a faceless ne’er-do-well. I think it’s because it was so ghoulish, what they were up to, but
he died of rat poison. What was his name?>>Glyndwr Michael, a Welsh name, forgive me if I’m mispronouncing that, but yeah, he was a Welsh itinerant that really had no ties to anyone. He had taken his own life with
a little bit of rat poison, and they thought, “Hmm.”>>Now, all of a sudden,
you have another element to the calculus, which
is, what are the odds that they’re going to find the rat poison in what they intend to make
look like an airplane crash?>>They were going to leave
him off the coast of Spain, for reasons we’ll get to in a minute, but if they’re leaving him
off the coast of Spain, the Spaniards are going to find him, and that is largely a
Roman Catholic country. So the pathologist finding this body, if they find a silver cross, a medallion of Saint Christopher on there, they’re going to think he’s
Roman Catholic as well.>>I’m Roman Catholic. We’re not into the whole carving up bodies and doing autopsy thing.>>So let’s just let this guy slide, and let’s not dig in and
find that he actually died of rat poison.>>So now the clock is ticking. They’ve got to figure out
a way to deliver this body to the right place. They wanted it to be Spain
because they wanted it to be someplace technically neutral, but that they knew had
heavy Nazi sympathizers–>>Because they had done it before. Spain had passed over information, found from a body that was off the coast, passed it on to the Nazis. And so, the Allies thought, “I
bet they’re doing it again.”>>So now, they’ve got
to get this body over, but of course, bodies decay over time. And if it’s going to look
like the plane crashed just a day or two before,
you can’t have something that clearly shows advanced
decomposition on it. So they have to refrigerate
the body, but not freeze it, in order to keep it preserved. And along the way, this
is their last chance to sort of make sure that
the glove truly fits. They tried everything from updating his photograph credentials, but when they took photos,
he was very clearly a corpse. And they’re like, “Yeah,
we can’t even do this.” So they took a previous photo, and then they very clearly
said, “This is a re-issue “because you lost your ID recently.” And then, at this point,
they start filling him with pocket litter.>>Yes, they filled out
the complete illusion of who Captain Martin William was. They had stuff like
tickets for the theater. They had love letters in there,
a picture of his fiance–>>Brian: Stamps, a stub of pencil.>>Yeah, they wanted to make this guy look like an actual person. And so they just filled out his life and put it in his pockets.>>And most importantly, they
had the briefcase of intel that allegedly was so super important that, in fact, in the run up to this, they start having those
communications like, “Oh, a certain somebody, good old M, “he’s on that mission. “I sure hope those documents
that are very important “make it there.” And then, they decide,
“Okay, this is the day “that allegedly the plane must crash.”>>Yes, they took this body, loaded it up, drove it across country,
and put it on a submarine.>>Specifically, inside this tank barrel labeled optical equipment. Nobody on this submarine knew that they were ghoulishly
transporting a body for the purposes of deceiving the Nazis, but they get to the mission spot. They open it up, the canister,
they dump out the body, they say a prayer, they
push it off to the side. And then, when it comes time
to get rid of the canister, they’re all like, “Oh, it’s floating. “We can’t have that canister there.” So they’re like, “Well, let’s
shoot it with machine guns.” They shoot it, still floating. And they’re like, “Oh
that’s a real problem.” And so finally, they load
it with plastic explosives and get the tank canister to sink, while the body and the documents are away, at which point, they just
vanish into the night.>>Now these documents,
these are the key thing. That’s really want the
enemy to get, right?>>Brian: It’s an exchange between–>>From a British officer,
and they’re saying, “We are actually going to
attack Greece and Sardinia.” Operation Mincemeat, what
you have to understand, is it was all part of a larger operation, which was also part of
an even larger operation, so this was a very small cog of deception in an entire latticework of intrigue and mystery.
>>It’s a long way to go just to create a Quentin Tarantino movie. [laughter]>>Alright, so, they drop the body off. It’s later found by local fisherman. It’s brought to the local authorities. They figure out, “Oh, this
is an English officer. “What’s going on?” The local coroner has to come on out. Meanwhile, the Brits have
to act like, they’re, “Oh my gosh, there’s a certain
briefcase that we really need “and we need it immediately,
and since you’re neutral, “you can’t say no. “We’re on our way right now.” And they had to manufacture
this moment that the coroner, they contrived to leave
them alone in the room with the wag of a finger, saying, “Don’t you go looking
in our secret things. “You just do your coroner stuff.”>>And that was the whole risk. They really were betting everything that someone in the Spanish military would take these documents,
look at them, and go, “Okay, now we have to get
them back to the Germans.” If that didn’t happen,
it could be disastrous.>>Which brings up a whole other thing, because after the fact, you need to know that they took the bait. So they did things like,
they put a single eyelash inside the sealed envelope letter, so that if it was taken out and then put back in and resealed, it’s very unlikely that
they would remember to put the eyelash back in there as well. So, Nazi-sympathizing,
allegedly neutral dude is left alone with it. They’re like, “Oh here’s your
untouched bunch of documents.” The immediately run it
back on the British side and go over every forensic
detail, and they’re like, “Yeah, they definitely
went through all of this. “They definitely photographed everything.” And then, at that point, they’re all like, “Okay, fingers crossed.”>>Yeah, and through
Ultra cracking the Enigma, and all of the German communiques, they were able to verify later, “Oh yes, the German forces
are actually relocating “off of Sicily to Greek and Sardinia.”>>And so this is where
we get the big payoff, and it’s unclear, there’s
no way to know for sure how much of an impact it had, but I know that they had expected losses in the range of 30,000 troops
for the invasion of Sicily, and they had around 10,000. So it’s pretty easy to squint and say that that was a success. It’s certainly a success for
awesome Modern Rogue stories.>>In July of 1943, 160,000
Allied troops invaded Sicily, and they had it taken by like mid-August, helping give the Allies an approach to the soft underbelly of
Europe and toppling Mussolini.>>All by taking a homeless person’s body, who I’m so thrilled,
eventually was given a name and given all kinds of recognition posthumously.
>>A respectful burial and everything.>>So this ended up being a movie, right?>>Yeah, it was called
The Man Who Never Was. I haven’t seen it, but you read the book.>>Yeah, it’s called Operation
Mincemeat, and it is riveting. It is a heist tale that
is exquisitely told, and knowing that all of it is factual, unlike our version of it here. Like, we’re telling a
campfire ghost story. It’s very well researched in the book and highly recommended,
Operation Mincemeat, it was amazing.>>Cool.>>This blows my mind. Did you know that like 52%
of all men over the age of 40 have some erectile
dysfunction troubles, right? That part I understand, that’s biology. We’re all just decaying human flesh. Of those people, 75% of them
never talk to their doctor.>>There’s no reason for that. It’s a health condition, you
talk to a health professional.>>Okay, but it’s super awkward. You got to look them in the
eye and explain all that stuff. What you need is a way to get erectile dysfunction medication from a real doctor that doesn’t involve all that awkward weirdness.>>But if you go to, you can actually talk to doctors online from the privacy of your own home. It’s discreet and it’s easy.>>Yeah, take care of that thing and you don’t have to
look them in the face while you do it. I wonder how many people don’t even know that they’re not operating
at peak performance. A bunch of people thinking like, “Ah, I’m sure it’s fine.” It doesn’t have to be fine. It could be more awesome.>>It can be choice. Go to,
get free two day shipping.>>Be at peak performance,
so that you can peak while you perform. That’s good, that’s good, that’s free. That one’s on me, folks.>>It’s easy, it’s discreet,
nobody has to know, and even if they do know, who cares? It’s your life, fix it.>>Get off my case, dad.>>Your dad’s on your case about that?>>Too much?
>>That’s weird. Tell him to mind his
own business, I think.>>Do you want to be more
famous when you’re alive or when you’re dead?>>Dead, definitely dead.>>Why?>>Definitely dead. I don’t need people in
my business right now.>>Coming up and asking for selfies. That’s such a problem? You’re just like, “Ugh,
would you knock it off?”>>Listen, it’s going to happen. I’m going to be more famous when I’m dead. I promise.
>>Only because you’ll be an animatronic,
uh dammit, sorry.


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