Years of Careful Deceptions Built Up to This One Moment
British intelligence wanted to cement Juan Pujol Garcia’s credibility with the Abwehr. So they had him send a message that alerted the Germans to the invasion a few hours before it began. It was a carefully calculated risk. Pujol Garcia’s handlers figured that by the time the alert worked its way from German intelligence to commanders in the field, the invasion would have already taken place. Thus the message would have done the Germans no actual good on the ground, but it would still enhance Pujol Garcia’s reputation with his German handlers. They then went in for the kill. Building upon the years of trust, Pujol Garcia told the Abwehr that the Normandy landings were diversions.
The real blow, Pujol Garcia informed the Germans, would fall upon the Pas de Calais a few weeks later. The Spaniard’s carefully crafted lies were coupled with other Allied deception measures. Key among them was a fictional First US Army Group. Commanded by General George S. Patton, it was supposedly massed across the English Channel opposite the Pas de Calais. The deceptions worked. The Germans were convinced throughout the crucial weeks of June, 1944, to keep powerful formations in the Pas de Calais, rather than rush them to Normandy to help destroy the vulnerable Allied beachhead.
By the time the German Pas de Calais formations were finally released for use in Normandy, it was too late. The Allies had amassed sufficient forces in Normandy to not only defeat German counterattacks, but to then go on the offensive, break out of the beachhead, and sweep across and liberate France within a few months. Juan Pujol Garcia ended up decorated by both sides. He earned an Iron Cross from a grateful Germany, plus a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) from an even more grateful Britain.
After WWII, Pujol Garcia feared reprisals from the Nazis. So he faked his death in Angola in 1949, then moved to Venezuela, where he ran a gift shop and book store. He led an anonymous life until 1984, when he agreed to be interviewed for a book about agent GARBO. When the story of his deeds finally came out, he was received at Buckingham Palace, and was lionized in Britain. On the 40th anniversary of D-Day, he travelled to Normandy to pay his respects to the dead. He died in Caracas, four years later.
The ‘King of Hollywood’ Left His Realm to Go Fight the Nazis
Once known as “The King of Hollywood”, William Clark Gable (1901 – 1960) was one of the silver screen’s greatest legends. He starred in over 60 movies, and is probably best known for his role as Rhett Butler in the blockbuster Gone With the Wind. He won an Oscar as Best Actor for his lead in It Happened One Night. Other notable films in which he starred and that met both critical and commercial success include Mutiny on the Bounty, The Hucksters, and The Misfits, his last film, as well as that of his co-star, Marilyn Monroe. When America entered WWII, Gable was Hollywood’s biggest star at the time and its greatest box office draw. He gave it all up, and took a break from the silver screen to go and fight the Axis.
Gable had quit school at age sixteen to work in a tire factory, and decided to become an actor after he saw a play. As he nursed his dream, he took acting lessons and worked a variety of jobs, from oil field roustabout to necktie salesman. In 1924, he married his acting coach and the couple moved to Hollywood so he could focus on his dream. He began his Hollywood career as an extra. After years of bit parts and stints in the theater, he got a contract from MGM in 1930, and garnered notice for a powerful performance in his first starring role in The Painted Desert.
Clark Gable built on his success in The Painted Desert. When MGM paired him with established female stars such as Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford, the combination steamed the screen and he instantly became a star. By the time America entered WWII, he was MGM’s biggest earner. When his wife died in an air crash as she returned from a war bonds tour, a devastated Gable decided to enlist. Despite MGM’s reluctance to let its most lucrative star go, he joined the US Army Air Forces in 1942, with the hope of becoming an aerial gunner.
The Hollywood star was sent instead to Officer Candidate School. He graduated in October, 1942, and was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant. On personal orders from the Air Forces’ chief, General Henry “Hap” Arnold, Gable was sent to the Eighth Air Force in England, with orders to make a combat recruitment film for aerial gunners titled Combat America. In 1943, to obtain the combat footage needed for his recruitment film, Gable flew five combat missions as a B-17 gunner, including a bombing raid into Germany.
Clark Gable Wanted to Fly More WWII Combat Missions, but MGM Wouldn’t Allow It
Clark Gable’s presence in the WWII bomb missions was for propaganda and PR purposes. However, the dangers he ran were all too real. In one mission, his B-17 lost an engine and had its stabilizer damaged after it was hit by antiaircraft fire and was attacked by enemy fighters. Over Germany, his B-17 had two crewmen wounded and another killed after the airplane was hit by flak. Shrapnel went through Gable’s boot, and almost took off his head. When MGM heard of its most valuable actor’s brushes with death, it worked its connections – despite his objections – to have him reassigned to noncombat duty.
For his service in Europe, Gable was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross and an Air Medal. In late 1943, he was ordered back to the US to edit the film. He tried to get another combat assignment, but none came. By the summer of 1944, after the Normandy invasion came and went without a combat assignment, he finally gave up and requested to be relieved from active duty on grounds that he was 43-years-old by then, and overage for combat. He stayed in the Air Forces reserves until 1947, when he finally resigned his commission.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading