Double Cross! How a British spy called Garbo saved D-Day
On the 70th anniversary of D-Day – how an amateur Spanish spy, his imaginary sub-agents and his sneaky British handlers saved D-day and pulled off the greatest espionage coup of all time.
In 1944, Britain, Canada, the USA and their allies had a problem.
They were planning to invade France in Normandy, defeat the German forces, advance into Germany and win the war.
Which sounded straightforward enough on paper.
But wargames showed that when the invasion came, the Germans would be able to build up their forces in France quicker than the allies would. If that happened then they would be able to push the allies back into the sea by sheer weight of numbers. And, despite the allies best efforts, there was simply no way to build forces in the bridgehead up any faster.
But the British had a plan. If we couldn’t build up our forces faster we would just have get the Germans to build up slower.
The plan to trick the Germans into keeping their forces away from the crucial battlefront in Normandy was called Operation Bodyguard and was quite simply the biggest and most audacious gamble of the war.
Operation Bodyguard included fictitious attacks from every point of the compass against practically every even remotely plausible target other than Normandy – Norway, the south and west of France, Spain, the Balkans – all had British spies beavering away, inventing fake attacks.
But the core operation, the operation that won the war, was Fortitude South.
And that came down to one Spanish double agent, his network of imaginary spies and the aptly named double-cross committee.
The Spaniard’s name was Juan Pujo Garcia, but he is more commonly known as ‘Garbo’.
Garbo had been a “freelance spy” in Spain, feeding nonsense he had got out of travel books to his gullible Abwehr handlers. This is called being a fabricator, and there’s a long history of it in espionage.
After the British got wind of how successful Garbo was becoming, they recruited him , and Garbo sailed to Britain, along with his wife, child and twenty-seven fictional sub-agents – the biggest and most successful network Germany had in Britain.
Garbo’s imaginary sub-agents sent over 500 radio messages in the first 6 months of 1944, giving the Germans basically accurate information about the actual invasion forces in southern England, but reported much lower numbers of troops in the west and much higher numbers in the east, giving the impression that the centre of gravity of the invasion force was opposite Calais.
On the evening of D-Day, Garbo broadcast a warning that Normandy was about to be invaded, timed to arrive just too late to be of any use. The warning boosted his credibility so much that when he reported the Normandy invasion was just a diversion, he was believed. The armoured divisions in Calais, which had been preparing to move to Normandy, were told to stay where they were.
The Germans remained convinced there was a another invasion coming in the Pas de Calais region for seven crucial weeks, with the German High Command refusing all entreaties to release the crucial armoured divisions until it was too late.
The invasion succeeded and the war was won.
Old Spies Don’t Die
After the end of WWII, Garbo faked his death, in order to throw any vengeful Nazis off his tracks. He, and his army of imaginary spies, arguably the the most successful spy-ring in history, then took well deserved retirement in Venezuela.
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