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"The Man Who Never Was" - Operation Mincemeat

1946 - Archive of WWII British Intelligence - Bletchley Park - Ricketts

WWII British Intelligence Deception Scheme to Mislead German Attention and Permitted the Invasion of Sicily [ 1943 - 2004 ]


England, 1946-2004. Research portfolio of English solicitor Sir Robert Ricketts, 7th Baronet Ricketts, endeavoring to ascertain the particulars of the "true incident" which inspired the plan for Operation Mincement, and the fate of the mysterious 'Man Who Never Was.' Comprises 3 signed letters, 9 photographs, 17 newspaper articles and announcements, 1 calling card, 2 maps, and 7 pages of personal notes. Of special interest are two early letters from 1946 by Captain Guy Dingwall Williams, Vice-Consulate and Assistant British Naval Attaché in Madrid, who collected some of the deceased aviator's garments at the site of the Barrosa Catalina crash near Cadiz one year prior to Operation Mincement. The third letter is from Ralph Bennett, author and historian who worked for four years at Bletchley Park as a senior producer of the intelligence (Ultra). Documents and photographs range in size; the manuscript notes are initialed R.C.R. [Robert Cornwallis Ricketts]; contained in plastic sleeves in a binder, and neatly organized and indexed for easy reference.

A morbidly clever World War II strategy which utilized a human corpse for a grand deception is investigated by British nobleman Sir Robert Cornwallis Gerald St Leger Ricketts (1917-2005) who is particularly interested in the "true story" - the inspiration for the unusually macabre plot devised by the otherwise conservative and high-principled British Government.

As a young lad serving in the Royal Army during the Second World War, Ricketts was posted in Gibraltar the year after "Operation Mincemeat", and only two years after the preceding tragic incident which occurred on a Gibraltar beach in September 1942, the latter of which he believed inspired the former - a most egregious yet victorious 1943 British Intelligence Strategy.

According to a captioned photograph taken on the grounds of Government House in January 1944, Ricketts was serving as Assistant Deputy Fortress Commander at Gibraltar, and evidently acquainted with three of the Governor's assistants. These connections surely provided Ricketts with details then unknown to the public, enough to pique his curiosity and raise further questions, in particular of the crash of an RAF FP119 seaplane Barrosa Catalina near Cadiz in 1942, and of the body of the plane's pilot, Eric Turner, to be washed ashore with a secret letter for authorities still present in his pocket.

Seeking primary source information, in 1946 Ricketts wrote to his friend Captain Guy Dingwall Williams "Don Guido" (1889-1959), who was British Vice-Consulate in Spain during the war. The portfolio contains two (2) response letters from Williams, specifically recollecting details surrounding the RAF seaplane crash of 1942. Affixed to the letter, Williams includes three news clippings pertaining to the incident. Residing with his wife Nina in Cadiz at the time, Guy Williams describes scouring the shore and finding some clothing which belonged to Lieutenant Turner of the felled aircraft.

Excerpts from letters by Captain Williams, dated 13 and 26 March, 1946, respectively :

"Now, with regard to the Barrosa Catalina... as far as I was involved... 18th October 1942,, we picked up a pyjama coat marked E.J. Turner..."

"... the Catalina crashed on or about the 25th September 1942, and when we went down on Sunday the 27th, our keeper told us that he had heard an explosion... that the day before, viz. Saturday the 26th (?)... the two bodies had been washed up and also a dispatch case with papers on the beach within half a mile of our little house."

"... the Spanish Authorities warned Algeciras who in their turn told Gibraltar... Bobby... brought the bodies back and when they were searched in Gibraltar an envelope containing the most "Top secret" letter addressed to the Governor of Gibraltar was found in a pocket..."

"... what had been picked up... several lists of names... must have been some form of black list. Further bodies and wreckage were washed up afterwards."

"Collie [British Consul at Cadiz] at one time assured me that the Spaniards knew everything... the Admiral at San Fernando was very pro-German..."

"Collie from Cadiz... had been told for a fact that the papers found on the beach had been sent up by hand by a naval officer called Cuvillo very urgently and with strict orders that he was to hand them personally to Franco in Madrid, and that Franco passed them on at once to the German Embassy, who said they were too late to do anything but they sent them to Berlin. I do not think this can be very true... Berlin could have found plenty of time to look into the question of the huge North African convoy crossing the Atlantic..."

We also find a signed letter addressed to Ricketts, 28 June 1994, from Ralph Bennett, an author and historian who worked at Bletchley Park during the Second World War. In his letter he mentions Bletchley's 'Ultra' Secret; he acknowledges receipt of notes from Ricketts on the 1942 crash which inspired the movie 'The Man Who Never Was'; and he discusses his books. [Bennett wrote, "Behind the Battle: Intelligence in the War with Germany, 1939-45," published in London, 1994, and several other works on Second World War intelligence.]

In 1953, Ricketts travelled to Spain with his wife Anne Theresa to visit the beach where the bodies and debris had been found in 1942, staying at the residence of Guy Williams. A photograph here shows the Ricketts, together with Williams and his wife Nina, as well as the affluent wine and sherry merchant John Harvey, at the Madrid airport.

[Ricketts most likely became friends with Captain Guy Dingwall Wiliams during the war while both were in Spain. Popularily known as Don Guido, Captain Wiliams was sent to Cadiz to control revolutionary activities in Spain and to set up a so-called anti-Bolshevik Department. They later had a connection through family as well, Ricketts' wife being the daughter of Sir Stafford Cripps, and Guy Williams' sister having married Lady Islabel Cripps' brother.]

Also of interest, he includes a photograph of Lieutenant General Sir Frank Noel Mason-MacFarlane, Governor of Gibraltar from 1942 to 1944, and the intended recipient of the letter being carried by aviator Turner. This image makes an interesting diplomatic connection between Governor MacFarlane and Ricketts' father-in-law Sir Stafford Cripps by way of a 1941 mission to Moscow.

The important discovery in 1996 which finally revealed the true name of the body used for Operation Mincemeat, and which was substantiated with an official statement by the British Government, evidently re-ignited Ricketts' interest in the mysterious affair. Having consistently gathered more information through the decades, in 1997 he began making manuscript notes, continuing until the year before his passing in 2004, to connect the details and summarize the events of this great puzzle.

[In 1996 Roger Morgan, an amateur historian from London, uncovered an array of evidence in the Public Record Office revealing the identity of the corpse, not as that of a Major Martin, but that of a Welsh labourer named Glyndwr Michael. Research done by historian Christopher Andrew came to the same conclusion, which he published in his book on the history of the Secret Service entitled "The Defence of the Realm". Cementing the theory, at least for most, in 1998, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission added an inscription on Major Martin’s grave in Huelva which reads "Glyndwr Michael served as Major William Martin." The research of Canadian Professor Denis Smyth, published in 2010 in his book, "Operation Mincemeat: Death, Deception and the Mediterranean D-Day", would further supporting these claims.]

A fascinating war story still shrouded with ongoing controversy, most of the speculation surrounds the proof of true identity of the body. Others such as Baron Ricketts, seek to uncover the roots of the bizarre and ingenious plan. It is most widely accepted that approximately one month after the Turner crash, British intelligence officer Charles Cholmondeley of MI5 outlined a plan based on the tragedy, a plan which was improved upon by Ewen Montagu, Naval intelligence officer and Judge Advocate of the Fleet. Historian and author Ben Macintyre and others, believe that the plan was conceived by Ian Fleming, an assistant to the head of British Naval Intelligence, and later the creator of James Bond. Fleming evidently claims that he'd lifted the idea from a detective novel.

Current Condition

The lot is in excellent condition