Grave of the Man Who Never Was – Huelva, Spain - Atlas Obscura

Grave of the Man Who Never Was

Cementerio de la Soledad
Huelva, Spain

This amended headstone marks the grave of a participant in one of the most successful military deceptions of all time. 


In 1943, British Naval Intelligence and MI5 devised a cunning plan to fool German command into thinking that the Allies planned to invade Greece and Sardinia instead of the actual objective; Sicily. All the plan required was a floating corpse and a fake identity.

Called Operation Mincemeat, the Allies planned to trick the Germans into believing they had, by accident, intercepted “top secret” documents giving details of the Allied invasion plans. To do this, they decided they needed a dead body. With the help of a pathologist, Naval Intelligence obtained the corpse of one Glyndwr Michael, a drifter who had died after ingesting rat poison. Michael was given the new identity of Major William “Bill” Martin and an extensive false identity that could be gleaned from items placed on his body. The documents and backstory created for Major Martin included love letters and a fiancé, a receipt for the purchase of an engagement ring, theater tickets, bank statements, and clothing purchase receipts.

Once the backstory was complete, Major Martin was dressed in the uniform of a Royal Marine, and a briefcase containing the fake “top secret” documents was handcuffed to his wrist. A life jacket was also placed on Major Martin to make it appear that he was the victim of a plane crash at sea.

Under cover of darkness on the evening of April 30, a British submarine lowered Major Martin’s body into the sea off the coast of Huelva, Spain. Major Martin was listed on the British casualties list alongside other officers who had also died in plane crashes at sea, including British film star Leslie Howard. When the body was found just hours later by a Spanish fisherman, it was reported to a German Intelligence agent in Spain. Now they just had to wait. 

Major Martin’s possessions were returned to the British, but testing revealed that the “top secret” documents had been opened, read, and resealed. As further proof that the deception had been a success, German defensive efforts were substantially redirected a short time later with reinforcements being sent to Greece, Sardinia, and Corsica instead of Sicily.

The Allies invaded Sicily on July 9th, but the Germans remained convinced for more than two weeks that the real invasion of Sicily was nothing more than a diversionary tactic. It is estimated that thousands of lives were saved as a result of Operation Mincemeat.

Major Martin was eventually buried with full military honors in Cementerio de la Soledad in Huelva. The gravestone reads, “William Martin, born 29 March 1907, died 24 April 1943, beloved son of John Glyndwyr Martin and the late Antonia Martin of Cardiff, Wales.” After the British Government revealed Michael’s true identity in 1998, the gravestone was amended to read, “Glyndwr Michael; Served as Major William Martin, RM.” The grave is a fitting tribute to Glyndwr Michael and his alternate identity; Major William Martin: the man who never was.

Know Before You Go

Plot: San Marcos Section. Take the first path to the left of the chapel and follow to the end. There will be a family crypt on the left and you will be facing the wall of the cemetery. Turn left. Major Martin’s grave is on the 31st gravesite on the left. 

In partnership with KAYAK

Plan Your Trip

From Around the Web