In April 1943, during World War II, a fisherman found a body floating off the coast of Spain. The corpse was dressed in a trench coat, a uniform and boots, with a black attaché case chained to one of his wrists. His wallet identified him as Major William Martin, of the British Royal Marines. Though the Spanish authorities were willing to hand the case over to the English, the British declined.
They asked that the handover go through regular channels. This was an odd decision, because in the days that followed the British had sent a series of frantic requests to the Spanish asking about the whereabouts of Major Martin’s briefcase.
Meanwhile, the Germans found out about the corpse of the British officer with the attaché case chained to his wrist, and through the help of sympathisers in the Spanish government were able to get access to the contents of the case in a way that didn’t reveal it had been opened.
What they found astonished them! It contained secret plans which revealed that English and American forces planned to cross the Mediterranean from their positions in North Africa and launch an attack on Nazi-held Greece and Sardinia. In response, Hitler transferred an entire Panzer division from France to Greece, in an effort to halt the coming assault.
One slight problem – later that year, Allied troops from North Africa did launch an assault, but rather than landing in Greece and Sardinia, as the plans in Major Martin’s briefcase clearly said, they invaded Sicily instead.
Major Martin it turned out, had been a mentally ill vagrant who had eaten a fatal dose of rat poison. His body, removed from a London morgue, was dressed up in the uniform, given the fake identification along with the fake war plans in the briefcase, and then dumped offshore by the British in hopes of the Germans getting their hands on him, which they did.
Believing that what they read in the briefcase was true, the Nazis fell for what has been called one of the most remarkable deceptions in modern military history.