D-day landings put at risk by double-agent's homesick wife
The success of the landings was imperilled by the marital problems of the double agent at the heart of Britain’s elaborate wartime deception operations, newly declassified MI5 files have shown.
Juan Pujol García, a Spaniard who was working for MI5 under the codename Garbo, had tricked his German spymasters into believing he ran a network of agents in Britain. He told them they had established that the landings would take place at Pas de Calais rather than Normandy.
The MI5 files, which have been transferred to the UK at Kew, south-west London, show that Pujol’s wife, Araceli Gonzalez de Pujol, was so homesick that she threatened to expose his work so that she could return to Spain.
The couple and their infant son had been placed in an MI5 safe house, where Gonzalez became desperately lonely and hated the English weather. She was also disgusted by wartime British food, complaining that there was “too much macaroni, too many potatoes, not enough fish”.
Working with his MI5 handler, Harris, Pujol concocted another elaborate hoax, this time with his wife as the victim: she was tricked into believing he had been imprisoned as a consequence of her threats, and was taken to visit him at MI5’s wartime interrogation centre, Camp 020.
Eventually, she signed a statement saying she would stop agitating for permission to return to and never again threaten to expose her husband’s role as a double agent. Pujol was “released” and went back to work for MI5.
Pujol, a Spanish chicken farmer, had volunteered his services to the Abwehr, the German military intelligence agency, in 1941. After undergoing training he was dispatched to London, but actually settled in Lisbon, Portugal, where he began sending a series of bogus intelligence reports about the UK.
After these were intercepted by British intelligence, Pujol was recruited as a double agent and the family was moved to London. There, he and Harris created a fake network of spies, at one point 27 strong, and all said to be reporting to Pujol.
As well as informing his German spymasters that the main thrust of the allied attacks on D-day would be at Pas de Calais, Pujol persuaded them that preparations were being made for an invasion of Norway.
In a report detailing what he described as “Mrs G’s acute homesickness”, Harris explained that she had “never managed to adapt to the English way of living, neither has she been able to learn the language”. Her husband did not approve of her meeting other Spanish people in London, for fear that she might let slip something about his role, which could then be passed on to the Abwehr.
“Her desire to return to her country, and in particular to see her mother, has driven her to behave at times as if she were unbalanced. She has for many months begged me to make arrangements for her to return to her home town, even for a week.
“As her state worsened, she became more desperate and … threatened she would leave her husband. As this did not produce the desired effect, she threatened to take action which would spoil the work and leave her free to return.”
At one point, Gonzalez turned on the gas taps in the kitchen of the house in Hendon, north London, where the family was living, and threatened to kill herself. MI5 was never sure whether this threat was serious or not, but was adamant that she could not be allowed to leave the country for fear that she would not only betray her husband, but the entire deception operation of which Garbo and his fabricated espionage network was just one element.
A watch was placed on the Spanish embassy, so that Gonzalez could be detained if she attempted to approach it, and her husband concocted his false story about being imprisoned at Camp 020. Throughout the hoax, Harris wrote, she was “treated firmly, but with every respect”, as it was important that she was not “left embittered against us”.
While MI5 ran other double agents during the war, Juan Pujol was one of the few who volunteered his services, and has since been hailed as one of the most important spies of all time.
The Abwehr gave Pujol the codename Arabel and never did discover he was a double agent: they were so pleased with his reports that they awarded him the Iron Cross Second Class. After the war he was also made a member of the Order of the British Empire.
With the help of MI5 he travelled to Angola, where he faked his own death from malaria, before settling in Venezuela, where he ran a bookshop.
The marriage did not last, however, and Juan Pujol remarried and had three more children. He died in 1988.