Mincemeat: An Author Has His Say

You know, from time to time, I remind myself, "This is MY column, by God, and I can do anything that I want on it (within the boundaries of legality, good taste, copyright law, etc etc…)"

So this week, I thought I’d let you read something I found fascinating.  Last time out, I wrote a very favorable review of Denis Smyth’s recent book, Deathly Deception.  It deals with Operation Mincemeat, the "man who never was," and deception operations in general.  I offered some measured criticisms of the book, as well, and in the comments section of the blog, the author sent me a very well reasoned rejoinder.  I thought I’d give everyone a chance to read it.  I have written a lot of books myself, they’ve gotten a lot of reviews, and I often wish that I had had a chance to respond. 

So, Professor Smyth, you have the floor.

Like I said: this is my blog!   

"I would also like to reiterate," he writes, "the rationale behind what he [Citino] describes as my ‘debatable claims’ concerning this deception plan’s general historical significance. In fact, as I make clear in my book, British ‘deceptioneers’ fully understood Hitler’s pre-existing fears about the vulnerability of the Axis in the Balkans. It was precisely to prey upon those apprehensions (which had been revealed to the deception planners by their codebreaking colleagues) that Greece was selected as the notional target for the forthcoming Allied summer offensive in the Mediterranean theater of war in 1943. Indeed, the British learned by trial and error in the Second World War that strategic deception could only work by exploiting an enemy’s spontaneous misjudgments of likely Allied moves. That is to say, British ‘deceptioneers’ came to realize that only when the Nazi High Command was already on the way to deceiving itself could they hope to complete the process.

Of course, in exaggerating Hitler’s fears about his Balkan Achilles’ Heel, the Allies not only planted ‘Operation Mincemeat’s’ misleading message on him, they also launched a carefully timed campaign of sabotage attacks across Northern Greece, during the weeks immediately prior to their descent on Sicily. Again, as I point out in my book, this systematic attack, codenamed ‘Operation Animals’, on German lines of communications within Greece resuscitated all the Führer’s anxieties about the fragility of his position there. Certainly, British intelligence appraisers were in no doubt that the apparent Allied threat to Greece dominated the German High Command’s strategic calculations and troop deployments before, during and after the landings in Sicily. The sheer numbers of German divisions in Greece and the Balkans, over against Sicily, in mid-1943, bears out this assessment.  As I say in my book, ‘this sizeable troop transfer arose from an inextricable mix of German miscalculation, British misinformation, and Greek mayhem’. ‘Operation Mincemeat’ was an indispensable ingredient in this deceptive compound and, that was exactly what it was planned to be."

My review and Professor Smyth’s response to it are a good reminder about what historians do for a living:  they construct "arguments".  And sometimes, they just plain argue with one another.

Bottom line:  it ain’t an exact science, and the author should ALWAYS have his say.

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