The thunderstorm that broke out over the southern coast of Spain on September 26, 1942 was not particularly remarkable, despite its relative violence. After all, at any given time there are hundreds of storms all over the world, scattering rain, hail, lightning, and occasional tornadoes across the landscape.
When we have storms around here, one of the first things I do is go outside to watch them roll in. I find them to be awesome, mesmerizing displays of the power of weather as it fights for calm and equlibrium. And as I look down the street, usually one or two of my neighbors seems somewhat captivated as well. In 1942, people were apparently interested in watching storms as well (there certainly weren’t any emergency weather broadcasts on the TV to watch), because a bunch of people stopped what they were doing to have a look.
But this storm was a bit different than the others…the spectators saw a little bit more than they bargained for.
At 3:30pm, an airplane came crashing from the sky and plowed into the Atlantic Ocean in an explosion of fire and water near the port of Cadiz. The Catalina flying boat was carrying ten passengers and crew, and all were killed. Among them was Lieutenant-Paymaster J. H. Turner and Louis Danielou Clamorgan, who was bound for northwest Africa.
What those watching didn’t know was that these two men, Turner in particular, were carrying secrets. In his book Deathly Deception, Denis Smyth writes that Turner was “carrying on his person documents which seriously threatened to compromise a major forthcoming Allied offensive, if they fell into the wrong hands. The operation in question, code-named Torch, was to be an amphibious assault of a size and complexity never before attempted in the history of war and for which secrecy was absolutely crucial.”
Fortunately for Allied planners, all the documents and all the bodies were recovered within hours. Disaster had been averted.
And a seed had been planted.
It was this aircraft accident that, much like lightning itself, sparked the idea in British minds to actually fabricate a duplicate incident. Put some faked documents on a dead soldier and have him wash ashore. Let him be “captured” by the enemy and hope they read the documents, which would send them scurrying in the wrong direction.
This was the beginning of what was, in all likelihood, the most successful deception operation of the war: Operation Mincemeat.
Recommended Reading: Deathly Deception