Popov Pays Off
Eventually, his relationship with the FBI having grown toxic and threatening to get worse, British intelligence recalled Popov to London, where he continued to feed the Abwehr false information. His biggest contribution came in the intricate Allied deception plans, collectively known as Operation Bodyguard, that sought to deceive the Germans about the planned invasion of France, scheduled for the summer of 1944.
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 drain it of defenders to reinforce Normandy.
Popov played a key role in a sub-plan of Bodyguard, known as Operation Fortitude, which created a fictitious First US Army Group (FUSAG) in southeast England under the command of general George S. Patton. Popov passed on made up details about FUSAG’s units, strength, and organization, which the Germans swallowed hook, line, and sinker. Their faith in Popov’s information was reinforced when they eavesdropped on fake radio traffic between fictitious FUSAG units. 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
Popov and Operation Fortitude paid off in a big way. After D-Day, the Germans were convinced that the Normandy landings were not the main event, but only the first in a series of landings. So instead of rush all available reinforcements to contest the Allies in Normandy, the Germans 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 Germans kept their units there for seven weeks, and by the time the Pas de Calais defenders were released, it was too late. The Allies took advantage of the breather to build a powerful beachhead in Normandy, before breaking out to liberate France and Western Europe.
After Paris was liberated, Popov was sent there to establish a British intelligence network. With Yugoslavia turning communist after the war, there was no future for the playboy Popov back in his home country, so he remained in the West, where he prospered as a businessman. He 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. 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 & Further Reading