Agent GARBO: The Allies Most Important Secret Weapon on D-Day
Juan Pujol Garcia, best known as MI5 agent GARBO, was the greatest Allied double agent in WW2 for his wild role ensuring victory on D-Day.
Today TGNR continues it’s campaign recognizing the most important and lesser known heros of the Second World War. With the 72nd anniversary of D-Day, TGNR examines Allied MI5 double-agent, Spaniard Juan Pujol Garcia – Agent GARBO. Agent GARBO was the Allies greatest secret weapon on D-Day, made possible by famously duping Nazi Germany for years, and his singular imagination. Pujol’s actions in the shadows not only ensured D-Day’s success for the Allies, but did so without ever firing a shot. This remarkable clandestine chapter of WW2 history through the Double-Cross System was entirely predicated by a singular ambition: Pujol’s irrepressible one man crusade against Hitler and Nazism.
It has been often debated if certain individuals are born out of time, those who’s personalities and values do not befit the generation that befell them. It is also pondered if some people are genuinely born to achieve a specifically predestined greater purpose. In the case of Juan Pujol Garcia, it is plausible to conclude he may have been both.
Juan Pujol Garcia is a name many are likely unfamiliar with, and for many years that exceptional anonymity was by design. Despite his historical low-profile, Juan Pujol Garcia was nothing less than the greatest Allied double-agent of the Second World War. The German Abwehr – military intelligence – knew Pujol by the code-name ALARIC. However, Pujol is best known by his British domestic counter-intelligence security service – MI5 – code name Agent GARBO.
Pujol’s role was a major factor in the success of D-Day, and the brutal combat that followed. He saved countless lives on what was called the “Second Front” in France, all without ever firing a single shot.
Juan Pujol Garcia: Catalonia’s Native Son
Juan Pujol Garcia was born on February 14th, 1912 in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. As a Spaniard born in the early 20th Century, Pujol would share many common hardships of his fellow countryman during a period of immense social upheaval and civil war.
Pujol was fortunate being born into an upper-middle class family. Their wealth was the product of his father’s ownership of a successful textiles factory. Yet in reality, it was not material wealth that was Juan Pujol’s greatest inheritance.
Pujol strongly embraced the idealized vision of life and humanity extolled by his father throughout his childhood. Family, charity, decency, political liberty and critical thought; these were the greatest lessons extolled to the young Juan Pujol by his father.
The aforementioned established virtues, coupled with his father’s dutiful rearing, and Pujol’s overwhelming imagination provided him with a stern moral compass that dictated his actions throughout his life. He would need them.
The Spanish Civil War: A Personal Tempest
In 1936 at age 24, Juan Pujol found himself a midst the Spanish Civil War: the horrific three-year struggle between the government of Republican Spain, and the upstart Spanish Nationalists lead by General Francisco Franco.
It was a wild change for the young Pujol. Pujol had previously undertook a handful of unsuccessful professional endeavors that included chicken farming and cinema management – after abandoning his formal education following a row with an instructor.
Pujol had completed compulsory military service in 1931 as a member of the cavalry. The experience lead him to the conclusion that he had no personal place within the ranks of a military unit.
Further in 1936, his then late father’s factory had been appropriated by its workers, an action that was supported by the ruling Republican Spanish government.
Ducking the Republican Draft & A Half-Assed Defection Plan
Despite his wholesale resentment for the Republicans, Pujol was recalled for military service. What followed was an odyssey of events that saw Pujol initially evade the Republican mobilization, and serving one-week of imprisonment by the Republicans until his girl friend’s family provided fraudulent ID papers showing him too old to mandatorily serve.
Following his release, Pujol embarked for a short time managing a pig farm whose sole consumer was the Republican state.
Pujol was so soured by the forced centrally planned war economy that he volunteered for infantry service in the Republican army, enacting a plan to defect to the Nationalist lines.
After a successful half-baked and nearly fatal defection; Pujol faced additional imprisonment by the Nationalist faction after openly expressing sympathy for the former Spanish monarchy.
The whirlwind that Pujol was swept away by cultivated a deep seeded personal resentment for both Communism and Fascism – seeing little difference between the totalitarian twins. His experience during those three years would change not just Pujol, but the fate of Europe.
Europe Goes to War, Again
On September 1st, 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Three days later the governments of England and France declared war on Germany in defense of Poland. The Second World War in Europe had begun.
Throughout the European conflict the victorious Spanish Nationalist government maintained an official, yet realistically dubious, neutrality.
Spain under Franco managed to maintain non-belligerency, but had clear Fascist sympathies. Franco was indebted to both Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy for their military support during the civil war that propelled the Nationalists to power.
The official neutrality of Spain made Juan Pujol himself a neutral non-competent. However it was an official designation Pujol refused to recognize.
Given Pujol’s experiences in the Spanish civil-war and unwavering belief in personal liberty, he declared a one man war against Adolf Hitler. Pujol recognized Hitler for what he was: the greatest threat humankind had ever faced.
Yet what was Pujol to do? He faced one considerable personal obstacle: Pujol had no applicable skills – short of his prodigious imagination – that he could offer in service to the Allied powers.
Getting His Foot in the Door: Pujol’s Plan To Enter The World of War Time Espionage
As the course of war swept further across the great powers of Europe, Pujol and his wife Araceli began their crusade against Nazism. Together they began making contact with the British and eventually American embassy’s in Madrid, and formally offering Pujol’s services as a spy to combat the Axis powers.
Pujol and Araceli made multiple approaches to gain the interest of the warring Allied powers, but each time they were shewed off. Initially Pujol could offer no skill of clear value to them. Further as a rule of good intelligence, one does not accept cold offers to perform espionage from individuals fresh off the street.
Despite Pujol’s initial rejections, he conceived a way to increase his potential value. Pujol would make contact with the German embassy in Madrid, and offer to spy for them.
Hook, Line & Sinker
Pujol went to school on Hitler and Nazism, in time managing to convince his future German handler Abwehr Major Karl-Erich Kuhlental, that he was a dedicated fascist official with passport access to Great Britain and British secret documents.
Pujol’s offer was eventually, after much persistence, accepted hook, line, and sinker. Pujol was in “the game.” The new Abwehr recruit was subsequently trained in the rudimentary arts of espionage such as secret ink use, as well as ciphering and deciphering coded messages. He was subsequently assigned to spy in Great Britain.
The Abwehr gave Pujol the official codename “ALARIC,” the namesake stemming from the Visigoth King Alaric I, the Roman trained Goth warrior whose victories sacking Rome itself proved pivotal to precipitate the fall of the Western Roman Empire.
Pujol’s plan was not without flaw or incredible danger. Pujol nor Araceli spoke any English, had never traveled to England, and only had a passport that would get them both as far as Portugal. Despite the clearly apparent dangers and difficulties, it was the beginning Pujol desired.
Pujol Imagining, Creating and Living a Noble Lie
Pujol and his wife secretly moved to Lisbon, despite being assigned to Great Britain. While in Lisbon, Pujol generated absolutely fraudulent reports about war-time Britain. Information that was cultivated from open resources found in a Lisbon public library, such as an ABC railway guides and wartime news reels.
Pujol then transmitted his reports via a “secret courier” back to Madrid. Pujol’s reports usually constituted an unusual but distinct style, its creation almost entirely the product of Pujol’s unmatched imagination.
To enhance his subterfuge, Pujol created a network of fictitious recruited Nazi sympathizing agents and sub-agents located throughout the British isles.
Pujol’s characters including deserting Greek merchant sailors, a businessman informer living in the key British port of Liverpool, contacts within the Welsh “Aryan Brotherhood,” and even a “dowdy” secretary employed at the British War Office with whom he carrying on a torrid affair.
Pujol’s German handler Kuhlental, and subsequently the German High Command itself, astonishingly appeared to believe every word he wrote.
In truth, many of Pujol’s fictional reports on wartime Britain had little substance regarding intelligence of value. Yet he maintained credibility by incorporating lengthy flowery Nazi diatribes; mostly espousing the inevitable victory of Hitler’s proclaimed 1,000 year Reich, and the defeat of Soviet Bolshevism.
Pujol’s credibility rose immeasurably among the brain trust of the Nazi war machine. Yet despite that incredible accomplishment, the British still refused Pujol’s offers of assistance, fearing he may be a German double-agent himself.
Talking the Talk & Walking the Walk: The British Finally Buying-In
The British did not consider the genuine nature of Pujol’s proposal until he generated a report to his German handler about a major fictional Allied naval convoy headed from Liverpool to relieve the all important embattled isle of Malta.
Such a convoy, though ficticious, was highly plausible. British war planners strugggled at great cost to supply and reinforce the strategically critical central Mediterranean outpost during the first three years of the war.
Based on Pujol’s report alone, Germany dispatched a considerable Luftwaffe – German Air Force – contingent to search for the non existent convoy.
Through Britain’s famous code breaking efforts ULTRA at Bletchley Park, the British intercepted both Pujol’s dummy report and Germany’s orders for a sweeping response.
MI5 initially thought they had missed a German agent operating in Britain. If so, it would have represented a true aberration as MI5 had been wholly successful apprehending every German agent assigned to the UK up to that point.
Through the efforts of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Services (SIS) – MI6 – the British identified the source as none other than the Spaniard who had approached them time and again since the onset of the war. Once identified, MI5 managed the extraction of Pujol and his family secretly from Portugal to Britain via Gibraltar in early 1942.
A Star is Born: Pujol Becomes Agent GARBO in Britain
Upon arriving in Britain, Pujol underwent extensive debriefing by SIS. With Pujol’s singular gift for imagination relating to subterfuge, coupled with MI5’s confidence in his unconditional loyalty and dedication to the Allied cause, Pujol was made an official MI5 controlled double-agent. Pujol then received his famous nom de guerre, code-named agent “GARBO.”
Pujol’s code-name was bestowed in salute to the timeless talent of actress Gretta Garbo. Colonel Thomas Argyll Robinson (known as “TAR”), MI5’s head of the XX Committee (Double Cross team), thought Pujol the greatest actor in the world.
“Tangle within tangle, plot and counter-plot, ruse and treachery, cross and double-cross, true agent, false agent, double agent, gold and steel, the bomb, the dagger and the firing party, were interwoven in many a texture so intricate as to be incredible, and yet true.” – Sir Winston Churchill reflecting on British wartime clandestine activities
True Agent to Double Agent: When Counter-Intelligence Is more valuable than bloodletting – the Double-Cross System is Born
From the outbreak of war in 1939, MI5 began a sweeping undertaking to identify and apprehend every agent sent by Nazi Germany to the British Isles.
Once apprehended, the captive agents were evaluated for their suitability in the Double-Cross System (XX), a program run by MI5’s XX (Twenty) Committee. The Double-Cross System was designed to deploy “turned” captured German agents, using them as double-agents to Britain’s advantage.
Throughout the course of the war, Britain’s Double-Cross (XX) system was a smashing success, and Pujol was to become their star player. His greatest eventual roll was setting the table in Normandy.
“The Second Front”: The Allies Establishing D-Day & Agent GARBO’s Greatest Role
In the Second World War there was one major strategic issue that trumped all others between the members of the most successful shotgun marriage/military coalition in history: the continued demand by the Soviet Union that the United States and British create a “second front” against Germany in Western Europe.
Such an invasion, were it ever to succeed, would be a mammoth amphibious assault on the northern coast of France hitherto unparalleled in human military history. This invasion would forever become known as D-Day.
Commencing with the invasion of the USSR by Nazi Germany in June 1941, the Soviets had continually pressed their western allies to create a new and massive theater of war opposite the savage combat raging along the Eastern Front.
By doing so it would serve to alleviate stress on their embattled nation, forcing Germany to strategically redeploy its forces to parry the assault from the English Channel.
In late 1942, any Allied return to northwest Europe was still no less than 18 months away. Yet to British Allied war leaders in particular at that time, the idea that in a year and half time they would successfully return to France in force was bordering on insane ramblings.
Whatever the reality of the second-front’s noxious political ramifications, that ship was a long way from sailing.
Yet at that time it was decided by the Allied intelligence braintrust that be, all of their human intelligence assets acquired by MI5’s Double-Cross system would be used to aid the Allied invasion of France.
What is known today as Operation Overlord, D-Day, faced several significant challenges:
1.) Given the German theory regarding the defense of the European continent, the French coast along the English Channel was a hellscape of fortification. Nazi propaganda referred to the collection of concrete bunkers, pill boxes, landing obstacles, and tactically advantageous placed ordinance as “The Atlantic Wall.”
Though clearly stronger in some sectors believed more likely invasion targets than others, the Atlantic Wall was more or less a series of continuous coastal fortifications.
Atlantic Wall fortifications ran from above the Arctic Circle in Nazi occupied Norway, along the coastal length of the Arctic and North Seas, fully through the English Channel, and culminating at the Spanish frontier. The vaunted defensive structure was 1,670 miles long.
2.) One need not the worst set of binoculars to recognize that the British Empire, the United States, and Canada were amassing an incredible collection of military personnel and equipment for the expected cross-channel invasion originating from Southern England.
Between 1942 and 1944, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland became a virtual fortress of military might. Nearly 1.5 million US Army soldiers alone were stationed in the British Isles prior to the invasion of France.
3.) With the clear eventuality of the cross-channel invasion, how would Allied military planners choose landing sights that would be both successful and also incur the fewest casualties?
To address these three main strategic obstacles, the western Allies decided that if one cannot hide a massive military force preparing to invade, one must lead the enemy to believe the assault would occur in a particular location, yet happen in another.
As such, two suitable locations were the leading candidates; the Pas-de-Calais and the Normandy coast.
Normandy vs. Pas-de-Calais: Choosing the Second Front Invasion Location
The Pas-de-Calais was a well developed French port, perfectly designed to handle the logistical demands of supply, combat deployments, and also being conveniently located at the shortest distance across the English Channel, 20 miles, for an attack originating in Dover.
The second contender was the Normandy coast situated on the Bay of the Seine, between Cherbourg and Le Havre. Normandy was a comparatively longer trip crossing the channel, however it enjoyed a more tactically favorable landscape on its landing beaches.
Furthermore, two major French ports were situated on its western and eastern flanks at the aforementioned Cherbourg and Le Harve, respectively.
Allied war planners in ultimately choosing Normandy and not the Pas-de-Calais as the landing sight faced a difficult obstacle: How do they go about convincing Hitler and the German High Command (OKW) that the main blow would fall instead at the Pas-de-Calais?
Operations Bodyguard & Fortitude-South: “A truth so precious it must be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” – Winston Churchill
MI5 using all of the double agents they were acquiring in the Double-Cross System (XX) were carefully orchestrating their use in Operation Fortitude South. Fortitude South was part of the greater Operation Bodyguard, an overall Allied strategic deception plan encompassing Western Europe, Scandinavia and the Balkans.
Bodyguard by 1944 was focusing on a massive strategic deception plan for misleading Nazi Germany about the timing and location of the expected Western Allied invasion of Western Europe possibly occurring in France, the Low Countries and Norway. MI5 was to play a high profile role in Bodyguard’s high wire act.
In practice, MI5 was using their double-agents for the purpose of transmitting a varying melange of carefully calculated disinformation to the Abwehr. MI5’s disinformation consisting often of half-truths, otherwise useless intelligence in great detail, sprinkled in with bald face lies, and occasional downright rubbish.
MI5 in doing so was careful not to clearly identify the ruse invasion destination. Officers of MI5 over time skillfully identified German consensus regarding Allied invasion prospects. In doing so, they subtly coaxed German strategic thinking by manipulating their confirmation bias.
Agent GARBO, Tommy Harris & Fortitude South
MI5 over an extended period therefore successfully reinforced the German consensus that the invasion of France would originate at the Pas-de-Calais. This effort was bolstered in no small way by Juan Pujol Garcia.
Pujol, then agent GARBO, sought out with MI5 to reinforing his profile as Germany’s most reliable and trusted agent in Britain. Agent GARBO was assigned a bilingual Anglo-Spanish MI5 case officer, Tommy Harris.
Harris and Pujol were endeavoring to develop the existing fictitious spy network; foremost for keeping the Abwehr on its back foot, and creating an even stronger avenue for deception.
Pujol and Harris’s collaboration, within the scope of Operation Fortitude, successfully managed to convince German intelligence of two non-existent Allied armies in Britain.
The Layout of Operation Fortitude
The first such force was located in eastern Scotland, and was reportedly tasked to invade and liberate Nazi-occupied Norway. The second fictitious force was the First United States Army Group (FUSAG), that was stationed in the southeast of England in Kent, preparing to invade the Pas-de-Calais.
Agent GARBO’s reports were reinforced by observable tangible evidence of their presence. The Allies generated dummy radio traffic, smoke from soldier’s cooking stoves, as well as displaying dummy inflatable equipment to be viewed by the beleaguered Luftwaffe, who could only perform minimal high altitude reconnaissance of little accuracy.
Even legendary U.S. Army General George S. Patton was publicly announced as receiving command of the fictitious FUSAG, chosen due to the German’s reverence for Patton – leading them to believe he would assert the invasion spearhead. If that all were not enough, the fictitious force had a highly publicized visit by King George VI.
The complex picture painted by the Allies for the Axis’ benefit managed to convince Hitler to redeploy forces to reinforce both the Norwegian coast, and the Pas-de-Calais. In doing so, reducing the forces available to defend Normandy.
June 6th, 1944: Agent GARBO’s Role on D-Day Itself
On the eve of the Allied invasion of Normandy, agent GARBO and Harris were authorized by MI5 to send a warning to Germany of the forces approaching the Normandy coast. The message was designed to be transmitted early enough to maintain Pujol’s credibility, yet too late for the German’s to properly redeploy their forces.
With the best of fortune on the dynamic duos side, the German radio officer in Madrid tasked with receiving and decoding GARBO/ALARIC’s radio messages turned off their set for the night, when the warning was originally transmitted. Therefore, GARBO/ALARIC’s warning was not received until 8AM that morning. That stroke of fate ensured the warning came far too late.
48 Hour Becomes Two Months
General Eisenhower, Operation Overlord’s overall commander, believed the Allied invasion would only succeed by delaying Germany’s inevitable significant counter-attack 48 hours following the initial landings. The counter-attack Eisenhower was envisaging would be largely composed of the German 15th Army then stationed in the Pas-de-Calais.
British military historian Andrew Roberts once mused that nothing in history was ever inevitable, except for a German counter-attack; Ike understood that truth with unswerving clarity.
Based on agent GARBO’s clear warning to Germany that the Allied invasion of Normandy was a diversionary measure, and the actual major offensive would come later from the fictitious FUSAG stationed in southeast England, Germany did not redeploy any of their divisions that composed the defensive build up in Calais to repell the Allied armies then in Normandy.
Eisenhower would not only receive the 48 hours he required post-invasion landings. Agent GARBO’s efforts kept German reinforcements in Calais for nearly two months post D-Day; awaiting an invasion that would never come by armies that never existed.
When German intelligence eventually inquired why the attack on Calais never commenced, Pujol responded by saying that it never became necessary as the diversionary attack in Normandy had been so successful.
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Agent GARBO: The Vanishing Act
Juan Pujol Garcia played a major role in the grand D-Day deception, saving countless lives on both sides of the line, helping best to ensure the invasions success. For his effort, Pujol holds a bizarre yet fascinating distinction, as he was decorated by both the Allies and the Axis.
As Pujol’s duplicity was never exposed, he was awarded both the German Iron Cross Second Class by Adolf Hitler, and the Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) by the UK, each in strictest secret. Pujol completely duped his Nazi handlers, and they never uncovered his deception.
To guarantee Pujol’s personal safety from possible post-war Nazi retribution, MI5 endeavored to spreading a rumor that Pujol died in Angola from Malaria in 1949. Following the war, Pujol left his wife and children and began a new life in Caracas, Venezuela.
The Detective Work of Nigel West: Locating Agent GARBO After 40 Years
Pujol was living in obscurity until 1984, when he was identified and contacted by acclaimed British historian of espionage Nigel West. Pujol’s identity and legendary wartime role was not revealed publically until he was formally invited to the 40th anniversary commemoration of D-Day in Normandy.
Juan Pujol Garcia was unrelenting in waging his personal war against Nazism, and is unique in that he never compromised his dearest principles to do so. Pujol’s deeds would not be known for decades after the war, and today his wartime experience is still obscure.
However, laurels were never part of his great personal gratification. Pujol co-wrote his epic wartime memoir with Nigel West; where he takes self-evident pride for never firing a shot in battle, nor taking a human life. Indeed, it was saving human lives that was his driving motivation.
Pujol was in tears when first seeing the graves of the fallen on D-Day 40 years later, bitter in the knowledge that he could not save all of the men who perished there. Quietly Pujol murmured, “I couldn’t save them.”
Agent GARBO The Irrepressible
Given all Juan Pujol Garcia accomplished, every life he did save, and all the official honors bestowed him, Agent GARBO deserves one distinction above all others: Juan Pujol Garcia was the living definition of irrepressible. Pujol was irrepressible in his ceaseless service to create and defend the better world he always thought possible.
In the end Pujol was both the man with a utopian vision, who for all intents and purposes was also a man born well ahead of his time. Conversely, but not contrarily, it also seems Pujol was born into that specific epoch to serve a greater purpose; a purpose that humanity still strives to realize.
Write to Paul K. DiCostanzo at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources: “Operation Garbo,” Nigel West, Juan Pujol Garcia, 1985. “The Spies Who Fooled Hitler,” BBC. “Timewatch: MI5 at War.” “Garbo The Spy,” 2009. “GARBO,” Dr. John McLaughlin.