A Spy’s Marriage Issues Almost Derailed D-Day

Juan Pujol Garcia, who was called “the greatest double agent of the Second World War” by the former MI5 official historian Christopher Andrew, helped to perpetrate the elaborate ruse that guaranteed D-Day’s success. Now, there have been declassified files released by Great Britain’s National Archives which have revealed that the top-secret mission of “Agent Garbo” might have been sabotaged by his wife. She played an important role in establishing his espionage network, and would later end up threatening to blow is cover by exposing Britain’s entire double-agent program.

After he fought for only a brief time in the Spanish Civil War, Juan Pujol Garcia had a great hatred for fascist leaders like Adolf Hitler. He had a desire to make a contribution “to the good of humanity.” So when WWII broke out, he tried to volunteer as a spy for Great Britain, only to be turned down three times. No wanting to give up, Garcia got in touch with German intelligence in Madrid and posed as a Nazi sympathizer traveling to London on business, then he was recruited as a spy.

Now that he had a connection with the Germans, British intelligence decided to bring Garcia on board as a double agent. They relocated him to London in the spring of 1942, along with his 23-year-old wife, Araceli Gonzalez de Pujol, and their son. Araceli didn’t speak any English and she was denied contact with other Spaniards in London by Britain’s MI5 security service. The only person that she was allowed to speak to was her husband, that is in the rare instance that he was actually at home and not working long hours at the office. Plus, she was also unhappy with the British food, which was made even blander due to wartime rations. “Too much macaroni, too many potatoes, not enough fish,” she complained of the local cuisine.

Araceli not only felt imprisoned inside her small London home, but she was also upset that she was no long able to assist her husband in the world of espionage. Juan had the code name “Agent Garbo” due to his quality acting skills, but “Mrs. Garo” also had proven to be an excellent performer herself. She had once convinced her husband’s German handlers that he was on a spy mission in England, while he was actually staying in Portugal. She also personally delivered some of his first spy messages and helped him put together a network of 28 imaginary spies as well as coming up with elaborate background stories for each one of them so that they could easily fool Garbo’s German handlers.

Araceli’s unhappiness continued to grow in London, and in 1943, her behavior grew excessively erratic. Her desire to return back to her home country and to see her mother, had driven her to behave at times as if she was unbalanced. In an attempt to provide Garbo’s wife with some comforts of home, an MI5 agent was assigned to go to Lisbon in February 1943 and purchase 12 pairs of silk stockings for her since silk was rationed in Britain for military use.

However, no amount of silk hosiery could take care of Araceli’s homesickness. And on June 21, 1943, her anger boiled over during a major argument with her husband. Araceli called Garbo’s Spanish-speaking case officer Tomas Harris and threatened to go to the Spanish Embassy and blow her husband’s cover, as well as the MI5’s entire double agent program along with it, if she wasn’t allowed to go back home immediately. “I don’t want to live another day in England!” she yelled across the phone to Harris.

Garbo went to work, using his agency’s powers of deception on Araceli. Along with MI5, he came up with a story that he had been arrested after reacting violently to the agency’s decision to remove him from duty because of the security threat posed by Araceli. After she had been informed of her husband’s detention, Araceli called an MI5 wireless operator who came to her house and found “her sitting in the kitchen with all the gas taps turned on.” The intelligence agent believed Garbo’s wife was engaged in a ruse of her own, appearing suicidal in an attempt to call her husband’s bluff. He estimaged that there was a 90% chance that this was just “play action.” The MI5 contact, however, refused to break and Araceli was taken to a room in the interrogation center where her husband had entered, dressed in a prison uniform. In tears, she signed an apology and pledged that she would “not do anything to future jeopardize the work being done by her husband.”

Garbo’s espionage work would prove critical in the coming months to the ultimate success of D-Day. Had Araceli gone through with her threats, it could have put a stop to one of the most crucial attacks of the entire War.