Fieldnotes: Juan Pujol Garcia, code name GARBO

This week's Fieldnotes pays tribute to an unsung Catalan hero of World War II, who does not feature in any of the Los Nefilim novels, but his whole story is so weird and unusual that I absolutely cannot forgo bringing him to your attention. My original search was for Spanish spies who were famous for their work either during the Spanish Civil War or World War II. While I found many worthy spies, the one who snagged my attention was Juan Pujol García (14 February 1912 - 10 October 1988).

Be forewarned that all of my information in this post comes from Wikipedia, which I always advocate as a cool starting point, but I usually caution people to back that information with other sources. Since neither Pujol nor his adventures feature in my novel, and since my research is already clogged with things I must know, I haven't taken the time to delve deeper into Pujol's history.

Also, I am leaving out a lot with this post. If you want to read more about his adventures and life, I do recommend the Wikipedia article (linked above) because there is a brief bibliography at the end.

With those caveats in mind, we begin:

Pujol came from a wealthy family, his father owned a dye factory and he endeavored to send his son to school in Barcelona. Unfortunately, by the age sixteen, Pujol got into an argument with one of his teachers, decided to leave school, and took up an apprenticeship in a hardware store.

But he didn't stay there.

 Juan hated the military.

Juan hated the military.

With retail not being in his blood, he decided to study animal husbandry at the Royal Poultry School in Arenys de Mar. His father died in 1931 but left the family well-provided for through the income generated by the family's dye factory. Also in 1931, Pujol was conscripted into service. He served in the 7th Regiment of Light Artillery in the cavalry unit in order to fulfill his six month compulsory service to the Republic.

Don't let that happy face fool you. Pujol hated horseback riding and claimed that he lacked the "essential qualities of loyalty, generosity, and honor" to be a good soldier. So as soon as his very brief stint in the cavalry ended, he turned to poultry farming, and if wars had not set the world on fire, most likely Pujol's story might have ended here.

But it didn't.

In 1936, the Spanish Civil War broke out. The family dye factory was taken over by the workers. At one point, Pujol's immediate family members, including his mother, were taken by Republican forces and charged with being counter-revolutionaries. Another of their relatives, who happened to be in a trade union, arranged the family's release; however, by this point the damage was done.

Because the Republicans treated his family so shabbily, Pujol wasn't eager to fight for them when they called him into service for the war. So he hid at his girlfriend's house rather than enlist. Of course, the police found him, because we all know the first place they look for you is at your girlfriend's house, and Pujol spent a week in jail. He was eventually freed by members in the Traditionalist resistance group Socorro Blanco. They hid him and helped him produce fake identity papers, which showed him as being too old for service.

Pujol learned to be sneaky.

Although at this time, he wasn't interested in spycraft. Instead he managed a poultry farm. He soon found that farming by committee was not economically feasible, and this in turn soured him on communism, which led him to produce MORE false papers so he could re-join the Republican army.

Because now he had a plan.

He intended to join the Republican army and desert as soon as possible. In an effort to reach the Nationalist side, he volunteered to lay telegraph cables near the front lines. During the Battle of the Ebro, Pujol managed to sneak across the lines and join the Nationalists.

This worked spectacularly UNTIL ...

One day Pujol expressed sympathy for the monarchy. This attitude didn't sit well with a colonel, who struck Pujol, and then to add insult to injury, he had Pujol imprisoned. By the time his service with the Nationalists ended, Pujol decided that fascism was as repugnant to him as communism.

However, he did learn valuable skills in subterfuge, which would eventually help him in his career as a spy. This being the part I'm sure you're all here for.

So now we'll talk about how Pujol became Garbo.

During the early days of World War II, Germany's main adversary was Britain. Since Franco supported Germany, and Pujol hated Franco, Pujol offered to spy for Britain. He offered on three different occasions.

But alas, M-15 did not want Pujol as a spy.

Being something of a self-starter, Pujol took it upon himself to start spying on his own. He created the character of a Spanish official, who was fervently pro-Nazi, and who could travel to London on official business. Using the skills he learned during the Spanish Civil War, he procured documentation for this new identity, and contacted Friedrich Knappe-Ratey, an Abwehr agent in Madrid.

Unlike the British, the Nazis were thrilled to have Pujol on board. They gave him the code name Alaric Arabel and a crash course in espionage, cryptology, and (I'm not making this up) "a bottle of invisible ink, a codebook, and £600 for expenses." The Nazis wanted him to move to London and recruit a network of British spies.

Pujol was finally in the spy business.

So he moved to Lisbon.

Which is not in Britain.

Lisbon is in Portugal.

In order to make the Nazis think he was in London, Pujol used a tourist's guide to Britain, reference books and magazines from the Lisbon Public Library, and newsreel reports from the cinemas to create credible reports for the Germans. He also created an extensive network of "sub-agents," who "lived" in different parts of the UK. By the time it was all over, Pujol had created a total of 27 fictitious identities, or sub-agents (there is a great chart over at Wikipedia that lists them all).

Then, using these various identities or "sub-agents", Pujol began feeding the Germans misinformation.

Pujol reached M-15's attention when he reported a non-existent convoy to the Kriegsmarine (Nazi Germany's navy), which resulted in the Germans wasting considerable resources hunting down something that didn't exist. Someone in M-15 finally decided that Pujol had some serious potential here, so they brought him to London, gave him a security check, and turned him over to Tomás (Tommy) Harris, an M-15 agent who spoke fluent Spanish.

Because Pujol was such a marvelous actor, his code name was Garbo. Pujol, along with his handler Harris, worked together and produced 315 letters, which were essentially a mix of complete fiction, genuine information of little military value, and valuable military intelligence artificially delayed. For example:

Garbo's agent on the River Clyde reported that a convoy of troopships and warships had left port, painted in Mediterranean camouflage. The letter was postmarked before the landings and sent via airmail, but was artificially delayed by British Intelligence in order to arrive too late to be useful. Pujol received a reply stating "we are sorry they arrived too late but your last reports were magnificent."

Pujol's "spy network" was so efficient and expansive that the Germans didn't bother recruiting anymore British spies. Which made Operation Fortitude South much easier for the British to handle.

What was Operation Fortitude?

Operation Fortitude South* was the military misinformation campaign utilized to distract the Germans from the actual location of Operation Overlord, which was the code name for the Battle of Normandy. Operation Overlord was launched by Operation Neptune, which is more commonly known as D-Day.

I think you can see where this is going.

Here Pujol played a major role in deception. His job was to convince the Germans that Allied forces would be landing at Pas de Calais, rather than on the beaches of Normandy. They couldn't blow Garbo's credibility with the Germans, so they decided to forewarn the Germans with some of the actual details of the Normandy invasion. The key was to send the information too late for the Germans to act on it.

Pujol told German radio operators that sometime during the night of June 5 or the early hours of June 6, 1944, a sub-agent was about to arrive with important information. The Germans were supposed to be standing by. Garbo made the call at 3:00 a.m., but no reply was received from the German operators until 8:00 a.m.

Turning this piece of bad luck on its head, GARBO was able to add more operational details to the message when finally sent and thus increase his standing with the Germans. GARBO told his German contacts that he was disgusted that his first message was missed, saying "I cannot accept excuses or negligence. Were it not for my ideals I would abandon the work."
 This is an inflatable Sherman tank. great fun at the beach but a bit large for the local pool.

This is an inflatable Sherman tank. great fun at the beach but a bit large for the local pool.

On 9 June (three days after D-day), Garbo sent missives that were passed to Hitler and his High Command. Garbo convinced the Germans of a fictitious order of battle. The Allies supported the deception with "fake planes, inflatable tanks, and vans travelling about the area transmitting bogus radio chatter."

Garbo told the Germans that the first landing at Normandy should be considered a diversion and that the Allies would be pushing the main body of their forces through the Strait of Dover toward Pas de Calais. The German High Command accepted Garbo's reports so completely that they kept armored and infantry divisions in the Pas de Calais and waited for a second invasion throughout July and August 1944. The German Commander-in-Chief in the west refused to allow General Rommel to move these divisions to Normandy, where the actual invasion was taking place.

Pujol's career as Garbo came to an end in late June 1944. The Germans wanted him to report on V-1 flying bombs. Unable to give them false information without blowing his cover, and unwilling to give them correct information that would endanger the operations, Garbo's handler, Tommy Harris, arranged for him to be "arrested."

A few days later, Pujol notified the Germans of the arrest and claimed he had to leave London.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Pujol received two awards as the result of his service:

  • The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire from King George VI for his service as Garbo.
  • An Iron Cross Second Class for his service as Alaric Arabel (his German code name)

Fearing Nazi reprisals, M-15 helped Pujol travel to Angola, where he faked his death from malaria in 1949. After he "died," he moved to Venezuela, where he ran a bookstore and gift shop.

And that, my dear readers, is the story of Juan Pujol García.

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*Operation Fortitude was divided into two sub-plans with Operation Fortitude South creating a diversion at the Strait of Dover and Operation Fortitude North directed its phantom army toward Norway.