The Brilliant, Eccentric Secret Agent Who Tricked Hitler and Saved D-Day
Mem. Ed. $19.99
Pub. Ed. $28.00
You pay $0.25
Review by Geoffrey Wawro
Cryptically mentioned in Saving Private Ryan, “Garbo” was the nom de guerre of the greatest double agent of World War II. Known to MI6 as Garbo, to the Abwehr as Arabel, he was so supple that he was simultaneously awarded the Order of the British Empire and Germany’s Iron Cross for valiant service to London and Berlin.
Historians have been universally impressed by the devastating impact Garbo had on German preparations and counter-measures for D-Day. The man alone was worth an army, literally. The persuasive lies he told the Germans about fictive Allied armies in Suffolk and Scotland—the first threatening Calais, the latter Norway—were the guts of Operation Bodyguard. Bodyguard, which created dummy oil tank farms, armor divisions, and tent camps, was the vast deception campaign that overhung Operation Overlord and forced Hitler to detach vital reserves from Normandy to other points, making Overlord a success. (Patton, in disgrace after slapping a soldier in Sicily, was given command of the fake army in southern England, on the correct assumption—confirmed by Garbo—that the Germans would assume that “Old Blood and Guts” would be the spearhead of any cross-Channel assault.)
But who was Garbo? That is the question asked by Stephan Talty in this fascinating new biography.
Garbo was Juan Pujol, the bastard son of a rich Barcelona dye manufacturer and his maid. Bright, ambitious, but unsuccessful in everything he tried his hand at—the army, chicken farming and hotel management—Pujol, nearing 30, looked like a washout on the eve of World War II. But the twin blows of his father’s death and the Spanish Civil War energized him. He felt shame at having failed his father, and revulsion at the brutality and bombast of Franco’s Nationalists, who bloviated about Catholic values while massacring and torturing their enemies. But, and here was the core of Pujol, he was equally revolted by the bombast and hypocrisy of many Republicans, who seemed more concerned with ideological purity than real life and its inexpugnable contradictions.
He decided to become a spy, and serve the cause of anti-fascism. But, and this is the most riveting aspect of the book, it was one thing to “decide to become a spy” and quite another to actually do it. Americans today with citizenship and a clean record would have a hard time landing a job at the CIA in any capacity. How could a Spanish drifter in a time of crisis, depression and war land lucrative jobs with both the British and the Germans? This unconnected ne’er do well literally walked into the German embassy in Madrid and persuaded the Nazis to take him on as a spy, when he actually had nothing to offer: no skills, no access, no secrets. He then used that connection to insinuate himself into British pay. Eventually he became a vital player in the war. Full of energy, charm and guile, Juan Pujol fashioned himself into what he most wanted to be—a world historical figure.
Hardcover Book : 320 pages
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Pub. Co. ( July 03, 2012 )
Item #: 13-610698
Product Dimensions: 6.0 x 9.0 inches
Product Weight: 19.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)