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The Man Who Saved D-Day

Posted on Sunday, June 6, 2021
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by AMAC Newsline
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AMAC Exclusive by Herald Boas

The Allied triumph of the D-Day invasion of Europe was due to brilliant planning, and the bravery, sacrifice and determination of the soldiers who stormed ashore the Normandy beaches in France.

But one man prevented the historic occasion from becoming a tragic failure, and he was not only a native of a Nazi-allied nation; the Gestapo, German army, and Adolf Hitler himself thought he was one of their most valuable and trusted spies.

In fact, the man known only by the code name “Garbo” was really a British secret operative, the most important double agent of World War II, and perhaps of all time.

Juan Pujol Garcia was born in the Catalan region of Spain in 1912. He was one of those rare individuals, known as “polyglots” who learn a foreign language with astonishing speed and total mastery. But his early life indicated little of the extraordinary person he became.

When the Spanish Civil War broke out, he served in the Republican army, but was both anti-communist and anti-fascist, and was disillusioned until World War II when he decided to help the British defeat Hitler “for the good of humanity.” Fluent in German and English (and several other  languages), he went to the British with a plan to become a German spy who would be a double agent working for England, but was initially rejected. Not easily discouraged, he went ahead and convinced the Germans to let him become a Gestapo spy in London. When MI5, the British spy organization, realized how effective he was, they changed their minds, and took him on as a double agent who fed the Nazis a combination of real but useless —and false, intelligence.

Using his remarkable imagination and language skills, Pujol (now code-named “Garbo”) created a network of dozens of non-existent sub-agents that convinced the Nazis and Hitler personally that he was a valuable spy, and that they now possessed all the espionage assets they needed in England.

This amazing hoax then set Garbo up to perpetrate his masterpiece of deception that saved D-Day.

Working closely with MI5 and the actual invasion force led by General Eisenhower, Garbo in 1944 began sending information to the German Wehrmacht that a large imaginary division of the U.S. Army under General George Patton was training secretly in the south of England for an invasion of France at Calais. The project was called “Operation Fortitude.’ In reality, U.S.,  British, and some French troops were training for “Operation Overlord” under Eisenhower in other parts of England, planning to invade further north at Normandy.

The ruse worked  Hitler and the German High Command kept key Panzer divisions at Calais. Even after the invasion at Normandy had begun, the irrepressible Garbo sent the Germans messages saying the landings at Normandy were a feint, and that the “real” invasion by Patton’s imaginary division at Calais was imminent. The Germans believed him until it was too late and the Allies had established a beachhead in Normandy and were moving inland.

It was double agent Garbo’s finest hour, and his masterful deception became legend among D-Day veterans — although only a tiny number of his British MI5 handlers knew his real identity.

After the war, fearing retribution from surviving Nazis, Garbo disappeared after faking his own death (with his usual skills of deception) and went to Venezuela where he remarried, had children, and operated a bookstore under an assumed name.

That would be enough for almost any other man, but there is a heartwarming postscript to this extraordinary story.

As preparations for the 25h anniversary of D-Day began, an enterprising English reporter set out to discover Garbo’s true identity. After many frustrating dead ends, he finally succeeded in not only obtaining Pujol’s name, but discovered he was alive and living in Venezuela.  Flying to Caracas, the reporter confronted Pujol, and persuaded him to come back for the 25th anniversary celebration of D-Day.

When Pujol/”Garbo” arrived late to where the celebration was taking place, a large crowd of D-Day veterans were already there in noisy conversations. Reportedly, as the crowd became aware that “Garbo” had arrived, a sudden hush occurred and, like the biblical Red Sea, the crowd divided to provide the small now-older man with a path to the podium where he was introduced to thunderous cheers.

Garbo had another remarkable distinction. In early 1944, Hitler personally ordered that he receive the Iron Cross, Germany’s highest military honor. A few months later, British King George VI awarded Garbo a top knighthood. After the D-Day celebration, Juan Pujol Garcia was taken to Buckingham Palace where Prince Phillip, on behalf of the Queen, formally presented him his Order of the British Empire knighthood.

“Garbo,” the consummate double agent, was the only person in World War Two, and probably ever in war, to receive high honors from both sides.

It was the perfect irony for the man who saved D-Day.

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Max
Max
2 years ago

I am a retired naval officer as well as I have studying military history since 1964. The above article about “GARBO” is not the first time I have read about him and I do not take away the honor of his massive contribution toward the WW II war effort. He knew tyranny when he saw it.

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