Awesome People In History: Joan Pujol Garcia

I’m back!

Having finished my breather, I’m here with another Awesome Person in History for you: Joan Pujol Garcia.

This nerdy-looking guy is the reason the Nazis lost the D-Day invasion. Seriously.

An ordinary guy from Barcelona, Pujol had a front-row seat to the horrors of the Spanish Civil War.

From that experience, he grew to hate and detest anything to do with the Nazis. See, the Nazis helped to start the civil war and gave their support to one of its factions, using Spain as a testing ground for the military strategies they would unleash on Europe in World War II, like the blitzkrieg and massive areal bombardments.

Pujol began his little revenge by offering his services to Germany as a spy. He claimed to be living in Britain, and sent the Germans reports about British shipping. This was something the Germans were keen to keep track of, as Britain depended on imported weapons. A bold move, considering he was actually in Portugal at the time and based his reports on stuff he read in the newspapers or the library. Yet, somehow, he fooled the Germans and was given a job.

The British found out about Pujol’s charade and offered him a job as an official double agent. Moving to Britain (for real this time), Pujol was given bunk information by British intelligence to pass on to the Germans. He invented fictional spies and spy rings he claimed to command in order to jazz up his reports to Germany. This practice got him close to being busted; one of his made-up agents was supposed to keep track of the naval fleet in Liverpool, but failed to report that the fleet had deployed. Pujol claimed the guy had gotten sick and died, and British intelligence put an obituary in the local newspaper to back the story up. The Germans not only believed it, but sent a check to the imaginary agent’s “grieving widow”.

Um, sure. I'll pretend to be a grieving widow for you. How much money are we talking about?

This brings us to D-Day. Pujol was ordered to convince the Germans that the already-massive invasion of Normandy was actually just a diversion, and that even still larger invasions were being prepared for the Pas de Calais (in northeast France) and for Norway. Pujol obliged.

An entire military force of thousands of soldiers complemented by tanks and planes was completely invented from the imagination. British and American staff were all told to list this “First U.S. Army Group” in their rosters and documents, even though it didn’t exist. Hundreds of inflatable fake tanks were made and lined up to look like armored formations to German reconnaissance planes.

They even put Gen. George S. Patton, one of America’s best military minds, in command of this fake unit to really sell the deception.

The craziest part was, it worked. The Germans were completely fooled, as evidenced by this German message that was intercepted: “All reports received in the last week from Arabel [Pujol’s codename] undertaking have been confirmed without exception and are to be described as exceptionally valuable.”

Even as the Allies fought in Normandy, the Germans didn’t devote all the strength they had in Western Europe against them – they needed those reserves, or so they thought, to respond when the BIG invasion came. Of course, it never did, and the Germans realized it too late.

For his efforts, Pujol is one of a very few people who received medals from both sides during World War II: an Iron Cross from the Germans, and an Order of the British Empire from the UK. He spent the rest of his life in retirement in Venezuela.

Information from Secrets of World War II and Wikipedia.

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2 Responses to Awesome People In History: Joan Pujol Garcia

  1. Dan says:

    Hi, i am currently writing a piece of coursework on the allied planning on the lead up to D-Day and i am wondering if this would be a creditable source to use? and where did you get the quote from?

    • rgriffit says:

      I’m glad you liked it! Unfortunately, while I do my best to ensure the information I present is correct, this blog is far from a scholarly source. And the quote came from Wikipedia, which is also not scholarly, though they usually provide their sources at the bottom of the article.

      Having said that, it’s not like this information is hard to find. I first heard the story on a British documentary series called “Secrets of World War II” that airs sometimes on the Military Channel. Some much more reputable sources you could check are Nigel West’s book “Operation Garbo: The Personal Story of the Most Successful Spy of World War II” and John C. Masterman’s book “The Double-Cross System”.

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