SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Spy with 29 Names’ by Jason Webster


thespy

The Spy with 29 Names is a gripping account of the exploits of Juan Pujol, the most extraordinary double agent of the Second World War, who was awarded both an Iron Cross by Germany and an MBE by Britain.
 
After the Spanish Civil War, determined to fight the spread of totalitarianism, Pujol moved to Lisbon with his wife, persuading the German intelligence services to take him on. But in fact, he was determined all along to work for the British, whom he saw as the exemplar of democracy and freedom. Seeing the impact of the disinformation this Quixotic freelance agent was feeding to the Germans, MI5 brought him to London, where he created a bizarre fictional network of spies – 29 of them – that misled the entire German high command, including Hitler himself. Above all, in Operation Fortitude he diverted German Panzer divisions away from Normandy, playing a crucial role in safeguarding D-Day and ending the war, and securing his reputation as the greatest double agent in history.
Cover artwork and blurb from jasonwebster.net
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The Spy with 29 Names is the story of a man who was almost lucky that the Second World War was raging. Had it not, his behaviour and attitude probably would have gotten him into trouble. A master of disguise, a man who had charming down to a fine art, a deceiver who could tell any lie. The spy known as ‘Garbo’ set up another, almost implausible, 28 spies from all walks of life and locales, and tricked the Germans into things no other spy managed during the war effort.

The book covers Juan Pujol Garcia’s early life from his birth in 1912 and the effects the Spanish Civil War had on his family in Barcelona. Pujol tried to fight for the Nationalists after his family got imprisoned by the Republicans, but he ended up with hate for the ideals of both sides of the conflict. Pujol harboured desires of being a WWII spy for the British but got rejected early on by the Embassy in Madrid, so he set out to work alone. Living in Lisbon, he started feeding downright false information to the Germans. The lies seemed to be trusted with impunity, so was Pujol’s ability to deceive.

British Intelligence crossed paths with Pujol first in 1941 when the code-breakers at Bletchley Park started finding messages to ‘Arabel’, a German agent who appeared to be in Britain. The messages started capturing their attention when they could see the information was blatantly false, but still seemed to be believed by the Germans. Kim Philby, the famous British spy, decided they needed to recruit ‘Arabel’ to help their own efforts and keep the British spy operations a secret. MI5 discovered the identity of ‘Arabel’ and Pujol went to Britain and worked with Tomás Harris to help with the effort and increase his false intelligence operation. While the information that Pujol spun to Germany was a pack of lies, he peppered it with a few genuine facts, only increasing his believability. The deeper Pujol went with Germany, the more elaborate he became, eventually having both male and female ‘spies’ on his side, reporting from the UK and abroad.

MI5 gave Pujol the code name ‘Garbo’ because he was a top-quality actor. Pujol went on to name his spy aliases with simple names, such as Rags the Indian poet, Mrs Gerbers the Widow, the Treasurer, the aptly named Con, and my personal favourite the Mistress, whom the Germans knew as Amy. Pujol’s ability to play the role of 29 different people would sound preposterous if it hadn’t been a real man who made such a massive contribution to the Allied endeavours. Pujol then become the main agent in ‘Operation Fortitude’, and his main objective was to tell the Germans that the proposed Allied invasion of Europe would happen anywhere other than Normandy.

As Pujol increased his involvement, even Hitler himself believed that Normandy would be not the D-Day location. For weeks leading up to the D-Day invasions, the Germans were diverting men and supplies away from Normandy. Pujol planned to tell the Germans a location and time of an invasion, only an hour before it happened. He then banked on them missing the transmission so his lying operation wouldn’t be blamed when the Allies stormed Normandy rather than up the coast, and ‘Garbo’ changed the war forever.

Two months after D-Day, the Germans awarded Pujol with the prestigious Iron Cross and a whopping payout for all his work. Even after the pivotal point in the war had damaged their operations, the Germans still believed all Pujol told them. Did anyone ever truly suspect Pujol? We will never know. Pujol moved to South America for his own safety after the war, and didn’t return until 1984 when he received his belated MBE and got the chance to visit the site of the D-Day landings. He passed away in 1988.

The story of Juan Pujol could have been lost to history while the stories of Kim Philby and other British spies were shared. Spain’s contribution to the Allied effort with one man’s charisma, lying and genius ideas is a story that needed to be told. Webster has woven a tale so astounding that it could be mistaken for a work of fiction and lets the light of day shine on the network of deception which saved countless lives. With meticulous planning and a clear, easy to read style, Webster has made an espionage tale that can appeal to those who enjoy war history and those who don’t. From the offices of the code-breakers to the complex conversations with the Germans and everyone in between, both the real-life and entirely fictional characters of the most fascinating spy are brought to life. Webster has written a book where everyone feels so authentic that a reader could be forgiven for falling for Pujol’s lies 70 years later.

Thanks to my father being a WWII buff, I grew up with a good knowledge of the war from the British point of view, but that level of knowledge isn’t required to enjoy this book. Webster also supplied a marvellous collection of photographs to feed the imagination of the reader. The book can sit proudly among all the fabulous works of fiction and non-fiction by this author. The Spy with 29 Names is an extraordinary account for all to enjoy as they recall how one of the most powerful weapons that saved the lives of our own relatives wasn’t a bomb – but a concoction of fiction.

Check out The Spy with 29 Names at jasonwebster.net and thespywith29names.com, and purchase on Amazon UK. Plus here is a video with the author about the locations where Pujol and Harris ran their operations.

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