In 1939, German intelligence agency Abwehr recruited one of their most successful agents in history. A young Spanish national named Juan Pujol Garcia approached them on his own, claiming to be a diplomat in Britain and offered his services to the Third Reich. Germans accepted and after sending him to a crash course in espionage, supplied him with a bottle of invisible ink, some cash, and codename Arabel and sent him on his way to London.
Pujol quickly reported that he has successfully established a network of agents in Britain and soon, he started supplying his Abwehr overlords with a massive amount of information. To make things more convenient, he managed to recruit an airline pilot who flew London – Lisbon line regularly and who would post Pujol’s letters from Portugal, in order to avoid MI5’s attention. The Germans were delighted.
Expect one small thing. It was all a fiction created by Pujol.
At the start of the Spanish Civil War, Juan Pujol Garcia was managing a small poultry farm near Barcelona. He was recruited by Republicans, but he changed sides several times during the war, managing to serve in both armies, but never firing a bullet at the enemy. After the war ended, Pujol was deeply dissatisfied with both sides, equally detesting communism and fascism, feeling that all totalitarian ideologies are wrong. That is why he decided to help Britain during the World War 2.
He tried to offer his services as a spy to the British embassy in Madrid several times but was dismissed without even being given an interview. Realizing that he won’t be able to enlist as a spy that way, Juan Pujol Garcia decided to address this problem in a slightly different manner. He obtained a Spanish diplomatic passport and approached an Abwehr agent in Madrid and in the eyes of the Germans became one of their most successful spies. In reality, Pujol never went to London. He went to Lisbon instead, rented an apartment and started following fervently British press and buying every travel guide on the British Isles he could get his hands on. From those, he fabricated a fictional spy network and sent fictitious information every month to Germans.
Brits soon became aware of the constant stream of fake information being fed to the Germans. Naturally, they wanted to know who was doing their job for them and spared no effort in trying to discover the mysterious person. Their efforts were in vain, but Pujol approached them again in 1942, and this time, they were thrilled to have him.
Juan Pujol Garcia was moved to London (that was the first time he traveled to the United Kingdom in his life) and paired with an MI5 officer Tomás Harris. He was given a codename Garbo, after Gretta Garbo. His superiors felt that the name of the greatest actress in the world was a fitting homage to the Pujol’s achievements.
Pujol and Harris were so successful that Germans never sought to establish another network in Britain throughout the war. In total, they wrote 315 letters, averaging 2,000 words, to Abwehr. Their work was essential before and during the Normandy invasion when they managed to keep Germans in the complete dark about the location of the attack. Even after the invasion started, Germans believed that Normandy was only a diversion and that the real attack would come at Pas de Calle, just like Juan Pujol Garcia was claiming. They kept 2 armored and 19 infantry divisions in the area, waiting for the attack that never came. Those forces, if used against Normandy landings, could have thwarted the invasion and derailed the entire Operation Overlord.
Most double agents become that after they are caught and forced to betray their former employers. Juan Pujol Garcia is unique in that regard, as he set out to become a double agent from the get-go. His entire approach was based on the idea of inflicting as much damage to Germans as he can, and he did manage a lot. It is impossible to asses precisely just how much of an impact his work had on the course of the war, but it is safe to say that without him, the victory would come later and at a greater cost. Pujol was awarded an Iron Cross by Germans and an MBE by King George VI, and is probably the only person to have both of these decorations.
After the war, Pujol faked his own death in Angola, with the help of MI5 and moved to Venezuela, where he lived a quiet life. His identity was rediscovered by Rupert Allason in 1984, and he returned to London for a visit. He was granted an audition by Prince Philip at Buckingham Palace and had a reunion in Special Forces Club with his former colleagues. On the 40th anniversary of the D-Day Pujol visited the Normandy beaches and paid his respects. He died in 1988.