The D-Day deception was helped greatly by one of history’s greatest espionage adventurers. Juan Pujol Garcia (1912 – 1988) was an eccentric Spaniard who wanted adventure and excitement, so he hoaxed the Nazis with fictional spying during WWII. The hoax grew into the greatest double-cross operation of the conflict and played a significant role in ensuring Allied victory on D-Day and in the subsequent Normandy Campaign.
Pujol hated fascists, and when WWII began, he decided to help the Allies “for the good of humanity”. However, when he offered his services to British intelligence, they declined. Pujol’s determination to get some wartime excitement did not lessen. He posed as a Nazi-sympathizing Spanish government officer, and offered his services to the Germans. They accepted, and ordered him to Britain, with instructions to recruit a spy network.
Instead of heading to Britain, Juan Pujol Garcia went to Lisbon, Portugal. From there, he simply fabricated reports about Britain, using content culled from public sources. He embellished that and seasoned it with his own active imagination, then sent the resultant “intelligence reports” to his German handlers as if he was writing from Britain. The Germans bought it, and begged for more. So Pujol invented fictional sub-agents and used them as sources for additional fictional reports.
Intercepting and decoding secret German messages, the British realized that somebody was hoaxing the Germans. Upon discovering that it was Pujol acting on his own, they belatedly accepted his offer of services. Giving him the codename GARBO, they whisked him to Britain, where they built upon his imaginary network. Under British control, Pujol’s ad hoc fibs were transformed into an elaborate deception operation, that lasted for years. During that time, the Germans were carefully fed a massive amount of often true but useless information, mixed in with half truths and falsities.
Juan Pujol Garcia and his fictional sub-agents sent German intelligence a flood of reports from Britain. That transformed him, in German eyes, into their most successful spy. The moment for cashing in on that trust came during the buildup to D-Day and the subsequent Normandy campaign. The ultimate aim of the painstakingly crafted deception was to convince the Germans that the Normandy landings were just the first in a series of planned invasions. Allied intelligence wanted the Germans to believe that an even greater invasion was planned against the Pas de Calais.
On the eve of D-Day, British intelligence set out to cement Pujol’s credibility with the Germans. They had him send his German handlers a message alerting them to the invasion, a few hours before it began. It was a calculated risk: British intelligence reasoned that, by the time Pujol’s warning worked its way from German intelligence to commanders in the field, the invasion would have already taken place. Thus, the warning would do the enemy no good, and simultaneously enhance Pujol’s credibility with the Germans.
With Juan Pujol Garcia’s reputation at his highest with his German handlers, British intelligence went in for the kill, to cash in on their carefully crafted deception. Building upon the years of trust, Pujol informed the Germans that the Normandy landings were diversionary: the real blow would fall upon the Pas de Calais a few weeks later. That was coupled with other measures, such as the fictional First US Army Group, under the command of George Patton, that was massed across the English Channel opposite the Pas de Calais.
It worked. The Germans were convinced during the critical weeks in June of 1944, following the D-Day landings in Normandy, to keep powerful formations in the Pas de Calais. There the Germans remained, waiting for an invasion that never came, instead of rushing to Normandy to help destroy the vulnerable Allied beachhead there. By the time the Pas de Calais formations were finally released, the Allies had amassed sufficient forces in Normandy. First, they defeated the German attacks, then went on the offensive, broke out of the Normandy beachhead, and swept across France, liberating it within a few months.
Juan Pujol Garcia, he was decorated by both sides. He received an Iron Cross from Germany, plus a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) from Britain. After the war, fearing reprisals from the Nazis, he faked his death in Angola in 1949, then moved to Venezuela, where he ran a gift shop and book store.
Pujol led a quiet life until 1984, when he agreed to be interviewed for a book about agent GARBO. Its publication finally brought his exploits to the light of day. He was received at Buckingham Palace, and was lionized in Britain. On the 40th anniversary of D-Day, Pujol traveled to Normandy, where he paid his respects to the dead. He then returned to Venezuela and died in Caracas four years later.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading