Time and History 4:30 A.M. WWII Major Martin's Last Mission

About major and minor historical events around the clock such as the World War II soldier Major Martin fooling the Germans into preparing for an attack at the wrong place at 4:30 in the morning.


4:30 in the Morning

Apr. 30, 1943. The corpse of Major Martin was secretly buried at sea from the British submarine Seraph. At that moment Martin, the strangest hero of W.W. II, began his first and last battle. He would become the leading actor in a bizarre plan to convince the Germans that the Allied attack on Europe would take place on Sardinia, not Sicily--the most obvious place.

The plan was to put top-secret documents in the clothes of "a shotdown airman," then throw the corpse into the sea off the Spanish coast, where it would fall into enemy hands. British Intelligence officials, faced with the problem of finding a suitable corpse, selected a soldier who had died from pneumonia, for an autopsy would reveal water in the lungs and seem to prove that the victim had drowned. The soldier's relatives agreed to the mission on the condition that his identity never be revealed. British Intelligence named him Major Martin and supplied him with a complete background. For personal papers, they gave him a bank overdraft of pound 80, a photograph of his supposed fiancee, a pound 53 bill for an engagement ring, and torn tickets for a London show. Because the corpse looked "too hopelessly dead," a "double" was photographed for the identity card. Most important of all, Martin had a letter personally signed by Lord Mountbatten which ended with a simple pun designed to trick the Germans into believing the Allied assault would be on Sardinia: "Let me have him [Martin] back, please, as soon as the assault is over. He might bring some sardines with him--they are on points here!"

Major Martin was buried at sea in a Mae West life jacket. Later in the day the body was found by Spanish fishermen. A postmortem officially established cause of death as "asphyxiation through immersion in the sea." On May 2, 1943 Major Martin was buried with full military honors. He even got a death notice in the London Times. However, his papers were not returned until May 13, when it was established that they had been carefully examined. Days later British Intelligence learned that the Germans had begun sending large reinforcements to Sardinia. When the Allies invaded Sicily, Field Marshal Rommel said that the failure of the German defenses was "a result of a diplomatic courier's body being washed up off Spain."

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