Operation Tracer
June 25, 2017 2:40 PM   Subscribe

Rear Admiral John Henry Godfrey, the Director of the Naval Intelligence Division of the British Admiralty, suggested that they establish at Gibraltar a covert observation post which would remain operational even if Gibraltar fell into enemy hands. This observation post would be located in a hidden chamber within the Rock of Gibraltar with two small openings to watch for movements on the harbor. Six men were selected to be sealed inside the cave, and while there were enough supplies to last one year, there was to be no way out of the chamber, and if any men were to die they were to be embalmed and cemented into the brick floor. [via Nelson]
posted by Chrysostom (31 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
This sounds like the beginning of some copypasta creepy online fiction, or maybe a Clive Barker short story. And yet!
posted by rmd1023 at 3:04 PM on June 25 [5 favorites]


Which is the more terrifying concept: that you're sealed in with five other men, or that you might not be let out after a year?

I can imagine a lot of things going badly in a year together. And, ok, 10,000 gallons of water is a lot, but where would all the poop go!?
posted by fatbird at 3:07 PM on June 25 [3 favorites]


Apparently Ian Fleming (yes, that Ian Fleming!) was involved in this operation:
Edward Merrett served as Godfrey's secretary. Writer Ian Fleming, of James Bond fame, was his personal assistant. Both were involved in Operation Tracer. Fleming had been a stockbroker in civilian life before he had been recruited to the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and commissioned as a lieutenant commander in 1939. It was after the war that he wrote the James Bond novels. In addition to serving as personal assistant to the DNI during World War II, Fleming was the mastermind of a special unit in 1942. Eventually known as the 30 Assault Unit, the naval commando unit was charged with acquiring intelligence information and went into ports that had fallen to the Allies. Fleming recruited a diverse assortment of men, including Arctic explorers, Royal Marines, and linguists. Their instructors even included a thief who taught them the skills of safe-cracking and lock-picking.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 3:22 PM on June 25 [6 favorites]


I am in awe once again at the badasses of WWII.
posted by corb at 3:28 PM on June 25 [4 favorites]


where would all the poop go!?

Sounds like there needs to be a follow-up investigation: Operation Poop Chute.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:52 PM on June 25 [2 favorites]


but where would all the poop go!?

Six people for a year - let's say half a liter of solids per person, per day - that works out to about a cubic meter of shit, does not sound unmanageable at all.
posted by Dr Dracator at 3:56 PM on June 25 [1 favorite]


I don't think they were actually going to be buried alive: one of the observation slits was big enough for a man to get out and enjoy the fresh air; and limestone isn't very hard to dig through if they wanted another exit. Of course, at that time they'd have been behind enemy lines, but they still could have surrendered or tried to escape.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:02 PM on June 25 [3 favorites]


I also think this sounds like a short story that's actually been written. Maybe something by Zack Parsons?

It would take a very specific kind of person to survive this kind of isolation with others. I've heard that recent studies on the psychology of prospective astronauts goes heavily into this, and that the Japanese space agency tests for that kind of aptitude.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:06 PM on June 25


that works out to about a cubic meter of shit, does not sound unmanageable at all.

I'm relieved, because I thought the answer would be '10 of the 45 feet'.

It's a good point about getting out the slits. The story obviously plays up the "entombed!" angle, but there's a lot of options after a year, even if they're in enemy territory, especially if they've got a radio channel that's still secure after a year.
posted by fatbird at 4:12 PM on June 25 [1 favorite]


does not sound unmanageable at all.

except perhaps for the smell
posted by sammyo at 4:20 PM on June 25 [4 favorites]


where would all the poop go!?

no, you see, that's the genius of this, you use the buckets that your food came in to store it all afterward!

wait

no

wrong thread, sorry
posted by indubitable at 4:24 PM on June 25 [4 favorites]


On the bright side, at least the folks sealed inside wouldn't have to put up with the damn monkeys.
posted by zachlipton at 4:28 PM on June 25


Cheers, love. The cavalry is there!
posted by Talez at 4:34 PM on June 25 [7 favorites]


yes, that Ian Fleming!

I've really never heard of any other ones
posted by thelonius at 4:52 PM on June 25 [11 favorites]


One of the better episodes of the TV series Timeless involved the time travelers meeting Ian Fleming when he was still a spy, not the guy who wrote Bond. When they got back to the present they found (because in Timeless time travel does change the present you return to) that there was a Bond novel they'd never heard of, which basically recounted the operation they ran with Fleming.

I also recall years ago reading an essay that blamed much of the Cold War and the whole spycraft battle of the era on Fleming for popularizing James Bond.
posted by Bringer Tom at 5:07 PM on June 25 [5 favorites]


Are Brexit talks going that badly now?
posted by acb at 6:00 PM on June 25 [8 favorites]


it's more like a metaphor for brexit
posted by indubitable at 6:18 PM on June 25 [1 favorite]


Stay Behind Cave:Gibraltar::Gibraltar:UK
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:34 PM on June 25 [2 favorites]


If Brexit goes ahead all Gibraltarians will be entombed within the rock to keep an eye on the EU.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:37 PM on June 25 [3 favorites]


where would all the poop go!?

Tyrion Lannister knows!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:41 PM on June 25 [3 favorites]


In related useless British Army/Gibraltar/Literary/WWII trivia, the author Anthony Burgess was stationed there during the war, and he was an inefficient officer. According to his memoirs, he liked to evade regular duty and spend his time composing regimental band marches.
posted by ovvl at 9:49 PM on June 25 [5 favorites]


I'm relieved

Phrasing!
posted by biogeo at 10:11 PM on June 25 [5 favorites]


It's the kind of thing that HARKONNEN SCUM would do.
posted by Mocata at 1:55 AM on June 26 [8 favorites]


... and limestone isn't very hard to dig through if they wanted another exit.

Unless the captives were provided with suitable mining tools, they would find it very hard to dig through. Limestone is not the hardest rock, but it's still rock.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:13 AM on June 26 [3 favorites]


It's like the chicken-powered nuclear landmine, only with humans.
posted by acb at 4:24 AM on June 26 [1 favorite]


hmmm... British Intelligence decided that similar secret lookout posts should be prepared throughout the world in the event of future wars.
posted by Bwithh at 5:21 AM on June 26 [1 favorite]


Anthony Burgess was stationed there during the war, and he was an inefficient officer. According to his memoirs, he liked to evade regular duty

I haven't read his memoirs but everything I have ever come across about his time in uniform makes it sound like he was a cheerily and charmingly lazy soldier. I have read his A Mouthful of Air: Language and Languages, Especially English: at another point in WWII, he was stationed in Malaysia and assigned to teach Malay to British troops (the fact that he himself did not speak Malay was not considered a disqualifying factor).

He talks of the classic two-lessons-ahead-of-the-students approach beloved of jack-at-a-pinch teachers everywhere, and how he came up with mnemonics to recall vocab. The two he mentioned specifically were for "editor," mualif ("If you've been drinking, chew a leaf before you see the mualif,") and the verb meaning "to move domiciles," bermastoutin, for which he imagined a comic opera Scotsman exhausted from a day of hauling boxes into his new home so he pleads for assistance: "Ach, Ah cannae carry anither thing! Be a guid lad and bear mah stout in." Silly, yes, but I read the book maybe thirty years ago and I still recall the terms.

Sorry for the derail into Anthony Burgess biography, but short of an FPP on mnemonics in second-language vocab learning, when would I ever get this out there?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:34 AM on June 26 [3 favorites]


yes, that Ian Fleming!

I've really never heard of any other ones


Neither have I, but I always get Ian mixed up with Alexander.
posted by gurple at 8:22 AM on June 26


Bwithh: "hmmm... British Intelligence decided that similar secret lookout posts should be prepared throughout the world in the event of future wars."

Yeah, that caught my eye, too! I'm imagining that even now, there are elderly British soldiers stuck in big rocks in places like Nairobi and Hong Kong, awaiting orders.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:03 AM on June 26 [3 favorites]


If that was really the way it was framed, it seems a bit... extra for the sake of being extra. A less dramatic way of doing it would be "we've plastered over the door, if you run out of supplies knock through it and try to escape back to the UK." I could see why they wouldn't want to state outright "put on your uniforms and go surrender if you are starving" but "WE WILL ENTOMB YOU FOR LIFE IF WE DON'T WIN... and also if we win and the handful of guys who know about this die" seem entirely unnecessary. I do wonder if the change to make the other viewslot human-passable was in fact a silent acknowledgement that they were all being overdramatic.
posted by tavella at 9:13 AM on June 26 [3 favorites]


> British Intelligence decided that similar secret lookout posts should be
> prepared throughout the world in the event of future wars.

Somewhere, deep under the White House, something is stirring ...
posted by hank at 12:06 PM on June 27


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