Juan Pujol Garcia: The Greatest Spy of World War II

The Story of Juan Pujol Garcia

A mastermind at fabrication, manipulation, and strategy, Juan Pujol Garcia was the spy who almost single-handedly ensured the German defeat without ever lifting a rifle. He was a textbook double agent who was awarded top medals by both sides after the war. The Germans never even knew they were working with a double agent until long after the war had ended. Juan Pujol Garcia may have been the most successful spy in all of history.

Photo of Juan Pujol Garcia

Photo of Juan Pujol Garcia

So why have you never heard of him? The problem with the story of Pujol, better known as agent GARBO or ARABEL, is that his story is nothing like you’d imagine when you think of secret agents. He was no James Bond. He was pretty ordinary by looks, probably rarely wore a tuxedo, was married and was all around a very unassuming member of society. He didn’t possess any high tech weaponry or fancy cars, but instead, he used strategy.

Pujol's Background and the Spanish Civil War

Pujol was born in Barcelona, Spain in the year 1914. His parents owned a dye factory and his mother was from a strict Catholic family. After he finished his studies, he did six months of compulsory military service. His self-reflections suggest he was unsuitable for a military career; he hated horseback riding and continually doubted whether he had the noble qualities of a soldier. He spent some time serving during the Spanish Civil War. He worked for both the Nationalists and the Republican side. While navigating the intricacies of war, he realized two important things: One, he was particularly skilled at fabrication, which helped him to stay out of much of the war altogether. Two, he absolutely despised both fascism and communism. Both of these became very important as World War II set in upon Europe.

As a soldier

As a soldier

Becoming a Spy

Early on in World War II, in the year 1940, Pujol decided that he wanted to help defeat fascism on a global scale. He looked for ways to help the British, especially in areas of espionage, but they weren’t interested in signing Pujol up to be a spy (it probably didn’t help that he had served on both sides of the Spanish Civil War. It would be difficult for him to prove he didn’t sympathize with Germany and fascism). So, Pujol, already skilled at serving both sides in a war, approached the German network and aimed to establish himself as their spy before going to the British as a double-agent. He contacted a German agent and was eventually able to establish himself as a German spy. Pujol even received a course of secret writing, coding, invisible ink and then received some expense money for his operations. He earned the codename: ARABEL.

Upon being accepted as a German spy, Pujol was tasked with provided valuable information to the Germans and building up a bigger spy network. Not doing any real spy work at all, Pujol started creating an entirely fictitious network of sub-agents living in different areas of Europe. He even convinced the Germans he had received a job in Britain, allowing him to build a network there. Ironically, Pujol was doing all of this work from Lisbon, Portugal. Pujol “established” a network of 27 men and women working under his command who didn’t even exist! The whole not living in Britain thing? He solved that part too. He locally mailed his letters from Lisbon but posed it as if he had a pilot under his command who was secretly transporting them so they wouldn’t be intercepted by the British. Having never been to Britain, he used tourists guides, public news, and maps to create his fake communications. Pujol would have no doubt been killed (and probably tortured first) had he been caught. However, it appeared that he had little fear and surprisingly enough, the Germans fell for every one of his tricks.

Transition to a Double Agent

By the time the British realized the fact that someone was playing the Germans, Pujol was a master of strategy. They had intercepted his reports and MI5 was completely convinced that there was German spy ring in their midst. Finally, when the US entered the war, Pujol was able to approach an American Naval Officer stationed in Portugal who delivered him to the British intelligence. The British finally sought Pujol out and incorporated him into their own spy ring. The Allies gave him the codename GARBO. He continued to misinform the Germans, but now he was able to up his game. For example, he could now tell the Germans real war plans. The only catch is that he would always deliver his news (like troop movements or bombing raids) days or hours after they happened. He would attribute the delays to members of his spy ring getting sick or fearing capture.

The Ghost Army that Pujol helped during "Operation Fortitude"

Pujol and his Influence on D-Day

The Germans eventually saw Pujol as one of the most credible and important spies in their network. They eventually even awarded him the Iron Cross for his service! Pujol, however, was anything but helpful to the Germans. He had a huge hand in securing a successful D-Day for the allies. He sent hundreds of messages to the Germans saying that the invasion was going to happen at Strait of Dover, not Normandy. This was part of the Allies’ “Operation Fortitude,” which also included a huge number of fake planes and tanks designed to fool the Germans into believing Pujol’s communications.

The Germans were so convinced of the invasion at the Strait of Dover, that they continued to keep troops on high alert there even after hearing word of a landing on Normandy. They likely thought the Normandy landing was a trick to disguise the real landing at Dover!

Pujol's achievements were classified for some time to protect him and the secrets of World War II, but have obviously been released. Juan Garcia Pujol might be one the only soldiers who was awarded medals by both sides after the war! There's also an argument to be made that he is the greatest spy to ever live. If you know of any other amazing spies or soldiers who received medals from both sides of WW2, add them to the comments below.