Operation Garbo; the personal story of the most successful spy of WWII – Juan Pujol Garcia and Nigel West

This is one of those autobiographies you just couldn’t make up; no one would accept the story as it’s just so incredible.

Juan Pujol Garcia was a British double agent in WWII who managed to persuade the German Secret Service that his entirely fictitious British spy ring existed and then persuaded them to accept the fictitious information he fed them from the fictitious spy ring!

Juan Pujol Garcia was, to cut a long story short, a chicken farmer who spent the Spanish Civil War avoiding fighting for either side. At the outbreak of WWII he wanted to help defeat the Nazis, again without fighting.  He offered his services as a spy to the British, who declined.  He offered his services to the Germans who accepted and encouraged him to travel to Britain.  He claimed to have travelled but in reality was in Lisbon making up reports from hat he thought might be interesting and from consulting library books about Britain.  Britain eventually recruited him after learning about his reports from decoded Enigma messages between Madrid and Berlin.

Once recruited by MI6 his “spy ring” expanded and through it Allied High Command were able to send useful misinformation to Nazi Germany, in particular the misdirects about D-Day.

The parts of the book written by Pujol Garcia are memoir and Nigel West contributes an historian’s perspective of the same points.

I loved finding out more about Garbo and his amazing, fictitious spy ring.  It was good to get more detail about some of the things I’ve read in other books such as MacIntyre’s Operation Mincemeat.

The problem is, mainly, that this is in part an autobiography.  I got a strong sense that Pujol Garcia is telling a very sanitized version of his story and he’s very assertive about telling his reader how apolitical he was and how desperate to help Britain defeat the Nazis.  I suspect the reality was a bit more complicated.  I’m not suggesting that Garbo was not really important to the war effort, he was, but in real life people don’t just wear a white hat or a black hat, they are a combination of both.

I would definitely recommend reading this book though.

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