Juan Pujol Garcia was unique among Second World War agents – he was the only one to offer his services as a double agent as opposed to all others who had been captured and ‘turned’. Bespectacled, balding and timid, Pujol was not the image usually associated with a double agent, let alone Britain’s most effective one.
Born in Barcelona on 14 February 1912, Pujol was working on a chicken farm when, in 1936, the Spanish Civil War broke out. He managed to fight for both the Republican side and the Nationalists. He was committed to neither and hated the extreme views they each represented. By the end of the war, he was able to claim that he had served in both armies without firing a single bullet for either.
For the good of humanity
He emerged from the experience with an intense dislike for extreme ideologies and, for the ‘good of humanity’, sought to help achieve a more moderate system. With the outbreak of war in 1939, three times he approached British services in Lisbon and Madrid, offering to spy for them, only to be turned away without an interview. Undeterred, Pujol decided to become a double agent. He offered his services to the German Abwehr service based also in Lisbon, offering to spy on the English, claiming that as a diplomat working in London, he knew England well. His audacity was certainly impressive – he had never visited England, nor could he speak the language, and he had forged a British passport without ever having seen a real one. Incredibly, the Germans fell for the story, put him through an intensive training course, and supplied him with the tools of the trade: invisible ink, cash, and a codename – Arabel, and sent him on assignment to England with instructions to build a network of spies.
This Pujol did. Soon, he had a team of agents working for him. They included disillusioned men and women, disaffected English nationals, and people prepared to betray Britain in return for wine. Between them, they supplied Pujol a steady stream of information which, in turn, he passed onto the Abwehr.
But it was all false. Pujol never went to England. Instead, he ensconced himself in Lisbon and armed with a Blue Guide to England and various books he found in the library, made everything up. He reported on non-existent troops, and routinely mixed up his pounds, shillings and pence. The Germans seemed not to notice. He even had the nerve to post his reports from Lisbon letterboxes, telling his German paymasters that among his agents was a pilot who regularly flew to Portugal, posting his correspondence locally.
Soon, the British were intercepting his messages and were delighted at the amount of false information being fed to the enemy. They determined to track him down. But in April 1942, Pujol approached them. This time, not surprisingly, they took his offer more seriously. Given the codename Garbo, Pujol began working with a Spanish and German-speaking Security Service officer, Tomás (Tommy) Harris.
The Germans were so impressed with the work of their Arabel and his network of agents that they rarely bothered to recruit further agents. For the British, it was imperative that the Abwehr continued to trust Arabel. Thus, the information Pujol and Harris fed them was often accurate but of low importance, or of high value but timed so that by the time the Germans received it, it was too late to do anything.
Soon, Pujol’s team of fictional agents numbered 27, each with their own backstory, supposedly based across the UK. Some were caught, imprisoned or, as Arabel told the Germans, had become untrustworthy. On one notorious occasion, a Liverpool-based agent had died. The Secret Service even had his obituary published in the local newspaper, and Arabel got the Abwehr to pay the agent’s ‘widow’ an annual pension.
In the lead up to D-Day in June 1944, Pujol played a major role in keeping much of German strength focussed on a possible invasion at Pas-de-Calais. The difficulties the Allies had landing on Normandy, particularly via Omaha beach, would have been that much more difficult if it had not been for the efforts of Britain’s Spanish double agent.
Such was Pujol’s success, he was awarded an MBE by Britain’s King George VI and an Iron Cross, personally authorized by Hitler (a rare event for a foreigner of the Reich). Pujol was perhaps the only individual to be so highly decorated by both sides.
Following the war, Pujol faked his death in Angola, and settled to a quiet life with his family in Venezuela. Pujol died in Caracas on 10 October 1988, aged 76.
D-Day: History In An Hour, published by William Collins, part of HarperCollins, is due for publication 24 April 2014.