His full name was Ewen Edwin Samuel Montagu. He was born into a very wealthy Jewish banking family and grew up in London.

As a young man, his family sent him to America to attend Harvard University after which, he returned to England and attended Cambridge University, Trinity College. He became a lawyer in 1924. In 1939, Montagu was appointed King's Counsel.

At the outbreak of World War II, he and his wife had the financial resources to send their two young children to  live with relatives in the United States.

Ewen Montagu would have notariety enough, but of the unwanted kind. This, because of his unusual brother Ivor Montagu who took to a strange mix of ping-pong and communism. It was later concluded that Ivor had given state secrets to the Russians during the second world war.

Operation Mincemeat

When war broke out, barrister Ewen Montagu enlisted and was assigned to the intelligence division of the English navy. While there, he concocted a plan with a colleague to deceive the Nazis into relaxing their forces on the shores of Sicily, and focus on the coast of Greece as if Greece was in fact, the spot chosen by the Allies for their planned invasion into southern Europe.

Ewen Montagu with maskMontagu and his British intelligence (MI6) crew, as were spy agencies for just about every country involved in the war, including the Nazis, were regularly trying to deceive the other, to dupe, to ruse, to feint. The magic of Montagu's ruse is that it was extremely successful. When the Allied invasion of Sicily occurred, the Nazis were unprepared. Montagu also managed to get his plan approved up his chain of command, ultimately ok-ed by Winston Churchill. The name of the plan: Operation Mincemeat.

A Dead Body

First, Montagu located a cadaver of a male of military age, who had died recently (by suicide) and who could be used as the Trojan horse for the false information. False secret papers suggesting an invasion at Greece, other than Sicily were planted on the cadaver. The dead body was then spirited to the coast of Spain by submarine, dressed as an English pilot, and let off close to shore, where it floated in.

As is rarely the case with any military opration, Operation Mincemeat unfolded perfectly. The government of Spain, although officially neutral, were known Nazi sympathizers. When the body of a dead English soldier washed up on the shores of Andalucia, Spain on April 30, 1943 with highly secret military secrets on letters in his possession, secret copies were given to the Nazis by the Spaniards as Montagu expected they would.

Those papers included letters suggesting false and deceptive military secrets describing an invasion of Greece. The German attachés in Madrid rushed the papers to Berlin which the Nazi secret service analyzed before gleefully presenting them to Adolf Hitler. Hitler had to make the ultimate decision about dividing his already dwindling forces away from Sicily to this new location of the anticipated Allied invasion. Like everybody else up the Nazi chain of command, he bit on Montagu's ruse and he bit hard. In the result, Nazi forces, panzers and infantry, were moved from Sicily to Greece leaving behind mostly just Italian forces.

Ewen MontaguBang!  When the Allied Forces landed on the shores of Sicily on July 10, 1943, the facist defenders, mostly Italians, were no match. According to one report,1 facing a massive wave of Allied Armed Forces, many of the Italian soldiers either surrendered or ran away.

When news of the minimal resistance got back to the British intelligence service, they knew their ruse had been successful.

Back to Law

With allied forces inching to Berlin from the South, Russians from the East and, as of June, 1944 (D-Day), more allied forces from the West, and bombs raining on Germany, Hitler committed suicide in April of 1945. Finally, the reign of Nazi terror was over. Montagu, could go back to law.

Montagu returned to the practice of law as London slowly returned to a state of some normalcy with the surrender of Germany. The English government showed its gratitude to Montagu by making him a member of the Order of British Empire, and later Commander of the British Empire. These were not bad item on a c.v. in a post-war England which wasd quick to return to its peerage system.

In 1945, he was appointed a judge, including court martials. His career as a judge was not as a successful. His problem was intemperance. Every few years, he would cause a new controversy by saying something inappropriate from the bench, for which he would, facing public outcry, apologize and move on. In his 2010 book on Operation Mincemeat, American author Ben MacIntyre relates two episodes:

"The Press nicknamed him the 'turbulent judge'. In 1957, he remarked in court, while trying a merchant seamen: 'Half the scum of England are going into the merchant Navy to escape military service.'...

"Four years later, he told an audience of Rotarians: 'A boy crook should have his trousers taken down and should be spanked by a policewoman with a hairbrush."'

Montagu found time while acting as a full-time judge to write two books about the military operation known as Operation Mincemeat. Both were published to great acclaim: the Man Who Never Was in 1954 and Beyond Top Secret Ultra published in 1977.

England lost a war hero, and the bench an original when, in 1985, Ewen Montagu died at the age of 84.

References:

  • MacIntyre, Ben, Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory (New York, Bloomsbury Press, 2010). Also Note 1.
  • Montagu, Ewen, Beyond Top Secret Ultra (1977)
  • Montagu, Ewen, The Man Who Never Was (1954)
  • Neame, Ronald (director), The Man Who Never Was (film), MGM Studios and Sumar Productions, released in 1956.