Barnet Post

Barnet Post

The spy next door

One of Barnet’s most fascinating blue plaques belongs to Garbo, the Second World War's famous double agent

Hero for The spy next door
(Credit: Wikicommons)
By Elizabeth Atkin 28 February 2022

Imagine this. It’s 1942. Halfway through the Second World War. You’re a double agent working for MI5, feeding a steady stream of lies and deceptions to the Nazis – concocting an elaborate network of as many as 27 fictional German ‘spies’, and communicating as each of them by letter and radio. You’re such a convincing actor that you’re given the codename Garbo, after the Oscar-nominated Swedish movie star Greta. And all of this is happening from a normal-looking, 1920s house in Greater London: 35 Crespigny Road in Hendon. Imagine this. It’s 1942. Halfway through the Second World War. You’re a double agent working for MI5, feeding a steady stream of lies and deceptions to the Nazis – concocting an elaborate network of as many as 27 fictional German ‘spies’, and communicating as each of them by letter and radio. You’re such a convincing actor that you’re given the codename Garbo, after the Oscar-nominated Swedish movie star Greta. And all of this is happening from a normal-looking, 1920s house in Greater London: 35 Crespigny Road in Hendon. 

(Credit: Wikicommons/Spudgun87)(Credit: Wikicommons/Spudgun87)

Sound like the start of a spy novel? This is one retelling of the very true tale of Juan Pujol Garcia, aka Garbo, the Second World War’s most famous (and successful) spy. Sound like the start of a spy novel? This is one retelling of the very true tale of Juan Pujol Garcia, aka Garbo, the Second World War’s most famous (and successful) spy. 

He was so successful, in fact, that he’s often credited with playing a crucial role in helping the Allies – Britain, France and United States – win the war, as a key player in Operation Fortitude South. In June 1944, Garcia and his handler, Tomás Harris, were able to convince the Germans that the D-Day attack on Normandy to free a Nazi-controlled France was actually a diversionary tactic. The real attack, they said, was coming to the shores of Pas-de-Calais. Even after this information was proven to be false, neither Garcia nor Harris were rumbled. Just weeks after his biggest deception of all, Adolf Hitler awarded Garcia an Iron Cross in July 1944 – for his ‘extraordinary’ services to Germany. He was also awarded an MBE, though secretly, at first. Can’t blow your cover. He was so successful, in fact, that he’s often credited with playing a crucial role in helping the Allies – Britain, France and United States – win the war, as a key player in Operation Fortitude South. In June 1944, Garcia and his handler, Tomás Harris, were able to convince the Germans that the D-Day attack on Normandy to free a Nazi-controlled France was actually a diversionary tactic. The real attack, they said, was coming to the shores of Pas-de-Calais. Even after this information was proven to be false, neither Garcia nor Harris were rumbled. Just weeks after his biggest deception of all, Adolf Hitler awarded Garcia an Iron Cross in July 1944 – for his ‘extraordinary’ services to Germany. He was also awarded an MBE, though secretly, at first. Can’t blow your cover. 

Juan Pujol Garcia was born in 1912, in Barcelona, Spain. He first worked as the manager of a chicken farm, later becoming a hotel manager in Madrid. His deep hatred of fascism, well-reported, was borne of his time fighting in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), in which he fought on, and came to hate, both sides. Moving across Europe to the UK, he first contacted Germany offering to work as a spy. And after several attempts at offering his services, he finally convinced MI5 to let him work as a double agent in favour of the Allies. Juan Pujol Garcia was born in 1912, in Barcelona, Spain. He first worked as the manager of a chicken farm, later becoming a hotel manager in Madrid. His deep hatred of fascism, well-reported, was borne of his time fighting in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), in which he fought on, and came to hate, both sides. Moving across Europe to the UK, he first contacted Germany offering to work as a spy. And after several attempts at offering his services, he finally convinced MI5 to let him work as a double agent in favour of the Allies. 

After the Second World War, Garcia didn’t return to his former life in Spain. He stayed with MI5 for a while, keeping After the Second World War, Garcia didn’t return to his former life in Spain. He stayed with MI5 for a while, keeping