I knew the Allies had invaded Normandy to majorly turn the war around, but I had no idea the crazy, intricate story behind HOW they were able to manage this attack.
The story goes back to the beginning of the war, when Germany sent spies into Allied territory to learn war secrets. The Allies quickly broke the German code, which utilized a popular novel of the day as a key, and were able to offer a “warm” welcome to each spy as he or she landed on Allied soil. They captured them, then offered a pretty sticky deal—secretly work for us or lose your life. Many were executed after refusing to cooperate, or being deemed too risky to use, but others became pivotal double agents in the war.
There are several featured in my World War II novel, including the womanizing “Tate” and the wealthy and spoiled socialite Elvira nicknamed “Bronx.” The most memorable, however, was a creative Spaniard named Joan Pujol Garcia, who made a fortune off his double spy activities with an ingenious yet totally dishonest plan. Known as “Garbo” (yes, after Gretta Garbo) to the Allies and as “Arabel” to the Germans, he created an unlimited source of income and enemies.
He recruited a host of men to operate under him as German spies, creating a vast web of agents, and each received pay from the German government from their efforts, as did Garcia. He also received a paycheck from the British government for his work for them. The man and his wife set themselves up in a nice home in England and spent their days keeping track of the elaborate network of spies that worked for them.
The kicker—none of Garcia’s spies were real. Garcia made up their names and personal information, and then he collected their paychecks. He couldn’t be in 500 places at once, so occasionally one of his made-up spies “missed” activity that occurred right where they were supposedly located.
How did he handle this? More creativity. Each time the Germans complained that one of his agents failed to report an important incident, he claimed they were sick or traveling. His most elaborate hoax included a notice to the Germans that one of his agents had died, complete with a death notice in the newspaper for a nonexistent man.
So how did all these men contribute to D-Day? They created what Alfred Hitchcock called a “red herring.” They passed information along to the Germans to make them believe the attack would happen in France’s Pas de Calais. The Allies even set up an entire regiment of fake men (think blow-up dolls) so that when the Germans flew overhead, the area would appear to be stocked with men. Germans pulled almost all troops and sent them to this location, leaving Normandy basically unmanned and ripe for attack. The Allies swooped in and captured Normandy, in an event known as D-Day.
When I was working on my World War II novel with my Naval-officer grandfather (who was in no way connected with the spies), the spy stories blew my mind. I’d always thought of men and women involved in the war effort doing positive, physically demanding jobs—like Rosie the Riveter working on equipment, women at home growing victory gardens, or men on the front fighting for their country. This side of the war—this creative yet complex web of deceit—had a huge impact, though. D-day might have ended very differently—no, definitely would have ended differently—without these spies.
My novel deals a lot with honesty and one girl’s struggle to decide between telling the truth and the demands of her everyday life in the war. What would you do in such a case? I’m so glad I was never faced with the decision. For those of us who try to obey Scripture, how could you justify the life of a double agent? The deeper I dug into these lives, the more I wondered what God would have to say about it. Did the benefit to the greater good outweigh years of dishonesty?
All I know is this. It took a lot of guts to get involved in D-Day. Even sitting behind a desk and planning a tactical move earned a person enemies. Many of these spies were not handed a reward for their work, but they poured their lives and their family’s future into the effort. Hardly anyone knows they even existed, yet they risked their lives. I’m thankful for the men and women who bravely stepped up to do something important.
Especially the ones working behind the scenes.