The Spy Who Led an Army to its Doom With Fake Newspapers and Letters
The Spy Who Led an Army to its Doom With Fake Newspapers and Letters

The Spy Who Led an Army to its Doom With Fake Newspapers and Letters

Khalid Elhassan - December 5, 2021

The Spy Who Led an Army to its Doom With Fake Newspapers and Letters
Dusko Popov and a friend. Tricurioso

4. The Serb Spy and the D-Day Deceptions

Eventually, Dusko Popov’s relationship with the FBI grew toxic, and as J. Edgar Hoover stewed over the double agent’s antics, things threatened to get worse. So British intelligence recalled their spy to London, where he continued to feed the Abwehr false information. His biggest contribution to the eventual downfall of the Nazis came in the intricate Allied deception plans, collectively known as Operation Bodyguard. Their ultimate aim was to mislead the Germans about the planned invasion of France, scheduled for the summer of 1944.

Operation Bodyguard had three goals. First, conceal the actual date and time of the invasion. Second, convince the Germans after the Allies landed in Normandy that those landings were just diversions intended to juke the Germans out of the Pas de Calais, where the real Allied invasion would land soon thereafter. Third, convince the Germans after the Normandy landings to maintain a strong defense in the Pas de Calais for at least two weeks, rather than send its defenders to reinforce Normandy. Popov played a key role in a sub-plan of Bodyguard, known as Operation Fortitude, which revolved around a fictitious First US Army Group (FUSAG) in southeast England under the command of General George S. Patton.

The Spy Who Led an Army to its Doom With Fake Newspapers and Letters
Johann ‘Johnny’ Jebsen. MI5 Archives

3. A Spanner Thrown Into the Works

Dusko Popov passed on to the Abwehr made-up details about FUSAG’s units, strength, and organization. His German handlers swallowed his misinformation hook, line, and sinker. Their faith in Popov’s information was reinforced when they eavesdropped on fake radio traffic between fictitious FUSAG formations. To further reinforce the deception, German reconnaissance planes were allowed to fly over and photograph concentrations of FUSAG tanks and transports that were actually inflatable dummies. A spanner was thrown in the works, however, when the Germans arrested Popov’s friend Johnny Jebsen, the Abwehr agent who had “recruited” him to spy for the Nazis.

Jebsen was kidnapped in Lisbon and smuggled back into Germany. There, he was tortured, then sent to a concentration camp where he disappeared and is presumed to have been killed near war’s end. Jebsen knew that his friend Popov was a double agent – indeed, Popov had turned him and made Jebsen a double agent for the British. The Germans did not know that, however, and had snatched Jebsen because they thought he was about to defect, not that he had already turned. They did not suspect Popov, and ironically, had arrested Jebsen because they feared that he would inform the British about the Serb, whom they viewed as one of their star spies.

The Spy Who Led an Army to its Doom With Fake Newspapers and Letters
One of Operation Fortitude’s inflatable tanks. Mashable

2. A Double Agent’s Key Contribution to the Allies’ Success in Normandy

When British intelligence learned that Johnny Jebsen had been arrested by the Germans, they feared that he would reveal that Dusko Popov had actually worked for the Allies all along. They thought it was all over for their Agent Tricycle, and suspended his activities and those of his network. Despite torture, however, Jebsen did not let slip that Popov, Agent Ivan to the Germans, was a British spy. When British intelligence realized that the Abwehr still trusted Popov, they put him back to work to continue the deception. He and Operation Fortitude paid off for the Allies in a big way.

After D-Day, the Germans were convinced that the Normandy invasion was not the main event, but only the first in a series of landings. So instead of rushing all available reinforcements to contest the Allies in Normandy, they kept powerful formations in the Pas de Calais, to defend it from the “main invasion” by the fictitious FUSAG. Popov’s British handlers had hoped to convince the Germans to keep the Pas de Calais formations in place for two weeks after D-Day. Things worked out better than their wildest hopes: instead of two weeks, the Nazis kept their units there for seven weeks. By the time the Pas de Calais defenders were finally released, it was too late for the Germans.

The Spy Who Led an Army to its Doom With Fake Newspapers and Letters
Dusko Popov in later years. Amazon

1. A Spy Rides Off Into the Sunset

The Allies took advantage of the breather afforded them by the success of the Operation Bodyguard and Operation Fortitude deceptions to build a powerful beachhead in Normandy. From there, they eventually broke out to liberate France and Western Europe. After Paris was freed from the Nazi yoke, Dusko Popov was sent to the French capital to help establish a British intelligence network. When Yugoslavia turned communist after the war, there was no future for the playboy Popov back in his home country, so he decided to stay put in the West.

Popov was awarded the Order of the British Empire for his wartime exploits – a nice accompaniment to the medals given him by the Germans during the conflict – and eventually became a British citizen. He prospered as a businessman and had no intention to reveal his wartime activities. In 1972, however, John Masterman published The Double Cross System in the War of 1939 to 1945, a deep dive into British wartime intelligence. That convinced Popov to write up his own account, and in 1974 his autobiography, titled Spy Counter-Spy, was published. A playboy to the end, he died in 1981, after years of heavy smoking and drinking, and many, many, women.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Cook, Andrew – On His Majesty’s Service: The True Story of Sidney Reilly, Ace of Spies (2002)

Encyclopedia Britannica – Benjamin Tallmadge: American Continental Army Officer

Encyclopedia Britannica – George Sidney Reilly

Encyclopedia Britannica – Karl Schulmeister

History Collection – These Well-Known People Were Also Spies or Intelligence Agents

Lockhart, Robert Bruce – Ace of Spies (1967)

Loftis, Larry – Into the Lion’s Den: The True Story of Dusko Popov, World War II Spy, Patriot, and the Real-Life Inspiration For James Bond (2016)

Macintyre, Ben – Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies (2012)

Madeira, Victor – Britannia and the Bear: The Anglo-Russian Intelligence Wars, 1917-1929 (2014)

Maude, Frederic Natusch – The Ulm Campaign, 1805 (1912)

Misencik, Paul R. – The Original American Spies: Seven Covert Agents of the Revolutionary War (2013)

New England Historical Society – A Spy For a Spy: John Andre Hanged

New York Times, December 15th, 1985 – Remembering a Master Spy at Home

Popov, Dusko – Spy Counter-Spy (1974)

History Collection – 8 True-Life Spy Stories Beyond Any Imagination

Rose, Alexander – Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s first Spy Ring (2007)

Rowan, Richard Wilmer – The Story of Secret Service

Russell, Miller – Codename Tricycle: The True Story of the Second World War’s Most Extraordinary Double Agent (2014)

Study dot Com – The Role of New York in the American Revolution