When Major William Martin of the Royal Marines left the submarine HMS Seraph in April 1943 on a top-secret mission he played the main role in one of the most successful and ingenious wartime deceptions ever attempted.
Not bad for a man who was dead at the
'The man who never was' has been the subject
of a 1956 film and a recent book by Times journalist
and author Ben Macintyre, which covered in detail the operation
that had a big impact on the Sicily landings and indeed the whole
war: Operation Mincemeat.
There was a lot of interest at
Bosleys of Marlow on November 6, when the 'Jolly Roger' flag
from HMS Seraph was sold for £14,000 against an
estimate of £8000-10,000. It attracted a lot of attention from
commission bidders and was bought by a UK private collector.
For Operation Mincemeat, the S-Class
submarine transported the body of an unknown man who was made out
to be 'Major Martin' to the Spanish coast. He was released as if he
had been thrown from a crashed aircraft and manacled to his wrist
was a briefcase containing top-secret - but totally false - plans
which the General Staff hoped would be picked up by the Spanish,
then neutral but under Franco's dictatorship, and would then find
their way to German Intelligence. The ruse worked and the Germans
were tricked into thinking the invasion was set for Greece.
Arguments still rage over the real identity
of Major Martin: a crew member from HMS Dasher, a Royal
Navy aircraft carrier which exploded off the Scottish coast in
March 1943, or a homeless Welshman called Glyndwr Michael
It was certainly not the only secret
operation that HMS Seraph was engaged in during
the war. Commissioned in June 1942, her exploits include Operation
Flagpole: carrying Eisenhower's deputy, General Mark Clark, to
North Africa on a top-secret mission to persuade the Vichy French
not to oppose Allied landings.
The next, Operation Kingpin, saw
Seraph rescuing French General Giraud for a mission
thought critical to the North African campaign. However, Giraud
hated the British and refused to board an RN vessel... so
Seraph hoisted the stars and stripes, pretended to be
under the command of a Captain Jerauld Wright RSN (actually the
RN's Lieutenant Bill Jewell) and the crew had to pose as
The vendor's father served on
Seraph and as the junior rating one of his duties was to
look after the Jolly Roger, measuring about 2ft 7in x 4ft (79cm x
1.22m), and update it with the various kills/emblems. A new Jolly
Roger was created when the submarine had a new captain in March
1944 and the vendor's father took this original one with him.
The submarine Jolly Roger came about after
Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson VC, Controller of the RN, slammed
submarines in 1901 as "underhand, unfair and damned un-English. The
crews of all submarines captured should be treated as pirates and
hanged". In response, when Lt Commander Max Horton sank the German
cruiser SMS Helaand a destroyer in 1914 he returned to
port with the Jolly Roger flying proudly aloft.
The buyer's premium was 20%.