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Operation Heartbreak

by Duff Cooper
Persephone book no:

50 51 52

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The Far Cry
A Well Full of Leaves
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ISBN 9781903155417

Operation Heartbreak is a novel based on the astonishing true story of efforts by British naval intelligence to conceal from the Germans preparations to invade Sicily in 1943. Author Duff Cooper is said to have first heard a version of it from Winston Churchill one evening after dinner when he was ambassador in Paris; it later formed the basis of the best-selling books The Man That Never Was by Ian Colvin and Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre, which in 2022 was made into a film starring Colin Firth and Penelope Wilton.

The hero of Operation Heartbreak (1950) is called Willie Maryngton; the central tragedy of his life is that he is too young to fight in the First World War and too old for the Second. Willie 'knew perfectly well that when a regiment went abroad on active service some officers and men were left behind. But he had never thought that he would be among those officers. The Colonel had talked about the first scrap, but that was just the scrap he wanted to be in. He had said something about heavy casualties. Willie minded little how heavy they were if he was in it, but how could he bear to sit at home, hoping that his brother officers would be killed so that he could take their place?' But Willie does in the end play a vital part in the Allies' eventual victory, and the knowledge that this book is based on a true wartime incident is in part why it is so moving.

'A story of why men go to war,' commented Nina Bawden on the Persephone Books edition when she first read it, 'it is also a heart-wrenching love story; a wonderful novel by a masterly writer that should be on everyone's bookshelf.' Meanwhile Emma Smith wrote that 'I remember weeping copiously over Operation Heartbreak when I first read it – it is a deeply-moving book, beautifully written.' 

Operation Heartbreak, 'a work of jewel-like brevity and intensity more expected in French than in English' (New York Herald Tribune), should take its place beside other, similar classics such as Reunion by Fred Uhlman, Strange Meeting by Susan Hill and A Month in the Country by JL Carr - short novels about war which are quiet, domestic, poignant and understated. 


This wartime printed rayon, designed by Arnold Lever for Jacqmar in c.1941, is called 'Happy Landings'.

Picture Caption

Nancy Jean Leslie ('Pam') whose photograph was used as part of 'Operation Mincemeat' during WWII.

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Categories: History Men (books about) Men (books by) WWII

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