Juan Pujol García, the Spanish spy

Juan Pujol García, also known as the Spanish spy who worked with the British in the Second World War, was born on the 14th of February 1912 in Barcelona, Spain, in a family of liberals. His father, Juan Pujol, was a dye factory’s owner, and his mother’s name was Mercedes Garcia. After being a poultry farmer, and the manager of a small hotel, in 1936 he joined the Spanish Civil War. During this experience, he developed a hatred and dislike for fascist regimes and communists and consequently, he decided to contribute “to the good of humanity”.

In January 1941, during the Second World War, he decided to offer his services to the British authorities in Madrid. Nonetheless, he was rejected three times since he was suspected of being working for the Germans. This did not stop him. Subsequently, he approached the German Intelligence in Madrid. The goal was to establish himself firstly as a German operative and then turn into a double agent.

Juan Pujol García
Juan Pujol Garcia in his uniform as a lieutenant in the Spanish Republican Army; Source: https://www.npr.org/2012/07/07/156189716/agent-garbo-the-spy-who-lied-about-d-day?t=1617441924461

Juan Pujol García as Alaric

The Spanish spy started to study the fascist doctrines and did not have any difficulty approaching the German Intelligence, and he offered them his services, stating that he was a Spanish government official often travelling to London and willing to do his “fascist duty” there. After a brief training in espionage and secret writing, they sent him to London with some money and secret ink. Pujol was not able to reach London. He was afraid of the police arresting him in England, so he decided to go to Lisbon, Portugal. While in Lisbon, Pujol started creating his imaginary network of spies and writing fake reports to the Germans.

With no knowledge about the British culture or territories, Pujol (Alias, Alaric) gathered information from the Blue Guide to England, British newspapers, encyclopaedias and reference books. His ability to write allowed him to gain the trust of his German handler. His name was Friedrich Knappe-Ratey, codenamed “Frederico”, who believed in him. Considering that he never visited the UK, he did a very good job. Nonetheless, he also made some factual mistakes, which on the other hand, the Germans did not notice.

For example, in one of his reports, the Spanish spy wrote “there are in Glasgow men who will do anything for a litre of wine”, without knowing that he should have said either beer or whiskey. The Germans continued to value his work, and they were afraid to lose him and his network. At the same time, the British were fearful. They thought that there was a German spy in their territories.

Juan Pujol García as Garbo

In 1942, the Spanish spy approached once again MI6 and he was brought to London, where he met Tomás Harris, his case officer and a Spanish-speaking MI6 agent. When the British realised that it was his first time in the UK and that he created an imaginary network, they decided to take up Pujol’s offer. He was given the codename Garbo, as the actress Greta Garbo, because of his acting ability, and he gained the identity of an employee of a large importer company of fruit and vegetable. In the beginning, he was only reporting non-essential facts approved by MI6, and over time he also began to mix this information with some fabricated by him.

Pujol’s first project was Operation Torch in 1942. Garbo informed the Nazis about a convoy of warships and troopships that left the UK port and were headed to North Africa. Even though the information was accurate, the Spanish spy arranged for his reports to be delayed in the post. The report reached Friedrich only a few hours before the invasion, and it was too late for the Germans. Despite the report being delayed, Pujol received a message from the Nazis saying, “we are sorry they arrived too late, but your last reports were magnificent.”

By January 1944, the Spanish spy and Harris invented an imaginary network of 28 agents, also known as Arabel. Pujol described each of these agents in great detail and these included a Venezuelan in Glasgow, a soldier in the 9th Armoured Division, a Welsh fascist, and an Indian poet in Brighton. Pujol also sent nearly 4,000 messages by radio and 4,000 secret letters to Germany. Flooded with Garbo’s information, the Germans did not try to infiltrate any other spy in the UK.


In 1944, the Nazis said to Garbo that they thought the Allies were preparing for an invasion of Europe. The Allies were preparing Operation Overlord to attack the Germans and invade from Normandy. Consequently, the British decided to give some information, sometimes true and sometimes false, to the Germans. Pujols sent over 500 radio messages to Berlin. The purpose was to convince the Nazis that the invasion would happen in Pas de Calais, and not Normandy. FUSAG was also part of the deception. It was an army of 11 non-existent divisions under the lead of General George S. Patton.

All the information that the Spanish spy sent was so well studied that the German army always believed him. On the day of the invasion, Garbo sent a warning to the Nazis stating that the Allies were headed to Normandy. The information arrived too late, and the Germans were not able to organise themselves accordingly.

On the 29th of July 1944, Germany awarded the Spanish spy with the Iron Cross for his “extraordinary services” to Germany. Later on, in December 1944, Great Britain awarded him a Member of the Order of the British (MBE) in recognition of his services.

Pujol and his new identity

Fearing revenge from the Germans, in 1949, after the war, Pujol moved to Angola and faked his death from malaria. He then moved to Venezuela, where he first worked as a language teacher for Shell Oil, and then he owned a gift shop and a bookstore called “La casa del regalo”. Pujol kept his secret until 1984. Then he when went back to Europe, and was officially recognised for his service at Buckingham Palace. The Spanish spy died in Caracas on the 10th of October 1988 because of a stroke.

As described in West’s book, Pujol’s boyhood imagination was something he had no real control over. This imagination was the one who led Pujol to dream of becoming a spy. It was thanks to his fantasies that he was able to trick the Germans. Juan helped the British in the Second World War and become one of the most famous spies in history.

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