The Man Who Won Normandy
by D. B. Grady
July 6, 2012
Stephan Talty’s Agent Garbo sheds light on an amateur spy who saved the world.
Stephan Talty’s latest book is like a case study in how elegantly the Second World War scales down. Narrowing the focus seems only to reveal more about the war, and armored divisions and vainglorious generals soon appear incidental to the greater actions of common people in terrible times. There are some names uncertain to appear on a national census roster, much less in the footnotes of history. But in Agent Garbo, Talty pencils in one such name: Juan Pujol, a chicken farmer in Barcelona, who acted not for headlines or personal glory, but to make in some modest way a “contribution toward the good of humanity.”
His life has been reconstructed by Talty though interviews, declassified documents, and files from state archives. During the Spanish Civil War, Juan Pujol refused to take up arms, unwilling to spill the blood of fellow Spaniards. This refusal proved an early introduction to espionage, as he spent much of the war incognito or out of sight. He was a deserter, and was eventually caught and imprisoned. When he escaped, he hatched a plan to abscond to France. Ironically, it involved enlisting in the same Republican military he’d just been imprisoned for avoiding. This time, however, he lied about his age (claiming to be too old) and lied about his politics (claiming to be a radical). Once in uniform and on the front lines, he made a mad, successful dash for the Nationalist lines. He never fired a shot in the war. Continue reading “Agent Garbo: The Spy Who Hoaxed the Germans”