• That Was Genius Team

Episode 16 - Vanking for Victory (Resistance Week)

Updated: Apr 19

Sam's Episode Notes: Juan Pujol Garcia - the superspy who got medals from both sides in WW2


Juan Pujol Garcia was the incredible storyteller who invented a resistance network in the second world war.

He was born in 1912 in Barcelona and got jobs variously managing farms and doing odd jobs. When the Spanish civil war came in 1936 his sister and mother were arrested by the republicans, who were the side allied with the anarchists and republicans. The republicans tried to conscript Pujol, but he hid from them before managing to get papers faked saying he was too old to fight – despite being just 24. Living and working under a local communist government, he decided he pretty much hated communism, and so rejoined the republican army with the hope of immediately deserting to the Nationalists. Which he did, before deciding pretty quickly that fascism was just as bad and just as cruel. He didn't manage to escape the Fascist side during the civil war, but once it ended was apparently very proud of the fact that he managed to wear both uniforms and never fire a shot. And so he decided that there was only one path to take to save Europe from either end of the political extreme. And that was that bastion of fairness and civility towards all, especially johnny foreigners, the British Empire. Unfortunately, the British had no interest in some random Spanish bloke. So he started making himself useful. And how did he do that? By signing up for the other side again. He forged himself a diplomatic passport and assumed the identity of a fanatically pro-nazi Spanish government official who made regular business trips to London, before approaching the Germans to offer his services. Brilliant, they thought. And took him on straight away, with a crash course in spying, £600, a bottle of invisible ink, The codename Alaric, and instructions to move to London and start his intelligence unit. Which he did. On paper. What Pujol actually did was to move to Lisbon in Portugal away from the prying eyes of Nazi agents in Spain, and sit on his arse writing up an incredible adventure. He pulled a network of ficticious spies out of his arse, choosing their locations and charging his expenses out of a pocket guide to Britain's railways. He'd never been to Britain and certainly wasn't going to do it when the Nazis were paying him to do it, so he make some odd mistakes about some of his agents – his man in Glasgow apparently drank a litre caraffe of wine every night. Which sounds a bit more Spanish than Scottish, lets be honest. He also couldn't understand how British pre-decimal currency worked, and so just whitewashed his expenses. He got his news from newsreels, magazines, travel brochures and a pocket guide to the ships of the royal navy. The Germans were thrilled with his progress – but unfortunately he was a bit of a pain in the arse for the British, who intercepted some of his writings and became so convinced he was real they launched a full-scale manhunt for both him and his network of imaginary agents. They also realised, however, that whoever they were searching for was deliberately wasting Germany's time – on one occasion creating a fake naval convoy which the German navy sent tens of ships and submarines to intercept. It was at this point that Pujol's wife approached the Americans, who saw what he was doing and finally put him in touch with MI5. So he became pretty much the only willing double agent of the war – certainly the only one who joined one side in order to get the other to hire him. It was at this point he was given his spy alias of Garbo after Greta Garbo, the greatest actor in the world. So Pujol was teamed up with Tomas Harris, a fluent Spanish speaker, moved to London with his family, and they got to work really wasting the German's time. Let me give you some examples, Tom, of the characters they created. The Brothers of the Aryan World Order were a fanatically pro-nazi resistance movement of Welsh nationalists living in Scotland. There was our Venezuelan businessman and wine aficionado in Glasgow. There was the loose-lipped American Army Sargeant. There were the Indian nationalists. The KLM courier pilots. The camp guards and waiters at officers clubs. In all, the network of pro-nazi informants and resistance groups in the UK numbered 27 – none of which existed, all whilst sitting at home scratching his arse. What he provided was astonishing – over 300 letters of around 2,000 words each and hundreds of radio transmissions. All of which were useless. Some of the information was nearly true but missed or fudged key details, some was just fake, and some was true and militarily valuable, but after being postmarked was held back by MI5 so that it appeared to get to the Germans just a little too late. When he was asked to provide information he couldn't easily fake, something bad would happen to the sub-agent. His man in Liverpool, William Gerbers, fell ill and died when asked to report on a major fleet movement. There was an obituary in the paper. Pujol convinced the Germans to pay for the agents funeral. And it worked – he was so successful that documents recovered after the war showed that the Germans didn't have any other spy networks in Britain because they didn't think they needed them, they were getting everything they needed from Garbo. In fact, the German secret service quoted him over 60 times in their briefings to the high command, meaning his reports repeatedly ended up in the lap of Hitler himself.


He was awarded the German Iron cross in 1944, just before D-Day, for services to the war effort. Because he was Spanish and wasn't actually in the German military, Hitler had to personally authorise the award and it was given to him over the radio. In fact, he was given the real thing by his German handlers after the war. The timing is ironic, given that he was one of the most important individuals in the famous misinformation campaign on the approach to D-day and was given the iron cross days before it launched. So, D-Day. You've probably heard about some of the misdirection and misinformation campaign launched before the invasion of Europe, Tom. Inflatable tanks, fake armies being marched around the coast – basically anything to make the Germans think the British were attacking anywhere except Normandy. It was called operation fortitude – and who do you call when you want to confuse the Nazis? That's right. In fact, his reports that there was a second invasion wave building up in the South after D-day were directly used by the Germans to hold tens of thousands of troops back in Calais, thinking there would be an attack there that never came. In fact they were so sure that this attack was coming they even pulled troops out of Normandy and the real invasion to act as reinforcements. And for all this work, he was given an MBE in November 1944, making him pretty much the only person to have been awarded by both the British and the Germans for his war service. The Nazis never cottoned on to him being a fraud, but he was quite scared of reprisals, and so after the war he disappeared and faked his own death from malaria in Angola, before fleeing to Venezuela, ironically quite close to lot of the Nazis he was scared about who went to South America as well. He was only rediscovered in 1984 following a huge hunt by a British historian. He died in 1988.


Tom's notes: Gunnar Stonseby (Sunstibee)


· aka no.24

· aka “the jaw” (Kjaken)

· Norway’s most decorated citizen

o Awarded the Norwegian War Cross with sword and two swords

o Everyone gets one sword, but you can get additional swords

· In 2008, he became the first non-American awarded the US Special Operations Command Medal

· Born in 1918 and died in 2012 aged 94!

· A heroic figure in the Norwegian resistance movement during the Second World War

· He was a double-hard bastard who cut his teeth in the fearsome and pitiless world of accountancy studying at university

o He also worked part time as a mechanic working on motorbikes

· “When your country is taken over by 100,000 Germans,” he noted, “you get angry.”

German Occupation of Norway

· Began in April 1940

· Traditional armed resistance ended after only 2 months

· A pro German government was set up (Quisling Regime) which worked together with the Reichskommissariat Norwegen

Resistance Movements

· Milorg (Norwegian Resistance Movement) worked together with the Special Operations Executive (SOE) (Britain’s organisation for helping and coordination resistance movements during the War)

o In 1941 Milorg became connected to the Norwegian government in exile (in London)

o They didn’t always work too smoothly

Gunnar Stonseby

· After the German’s occupied Norway, he joined the Oslo Gang (a small gang of resistance fighters)

o Becomes one of the best sabotage groups in Europe during the war

· He finds himself in 1942 Britain he receives training as a saboteur

o He didn’t respond well to British discipline and almost gets chucked out for taking a pot shot at a sheep in the Highlands

· He is parachuted back into Norway where he become leader of Norwegian Independent Group 1 or Linges Company (a group under the SOE)

o This group is most famous for its successes preventing Nazi Germany from producing heavy water at the Vemork Hydroelectric plant in the area of Telemark

§ Norsk Hydro had been capable of producing heavy water since the mid 1930s and this was an important ingredient in creating nuclear weapons

o The facility was successfully destroyed in February 1943 during Operation Gunnerside

§ This is widely perceived as one of the best and most important acts of sabotage in WWII

§ All of the saboteurs escaped despite a 3000 man search party, some even skiing 400km to Sweden

o 1965 film the Heroes of Telemark starring Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris

§ One of the original saboteurs actually plays one of the German pursuers after the sabotage

§ Rotten Tomatoes; 80% but 56% audience score

· Mind you, Braveheart did get 77%

Master of disguise

· He had 30-40 disguises to avoid the Gestapo (he was on their hit list)

· He forged papers himself and could even forge the signature of Karl Marthinsen; the leader of the Nazi Police in Norway and a man responsible for the Norwegian holocaust

o He was actually killed by resistance fighters in 1945

· He would never stay in one location for long and had a network of places to stay

o One such place was a bakery and if he turned up, one of the waitresses, simply with a look, would let him know if it was safe

Some of his successes as part of the Oslo Gang

· Gathered information about German U-Boat building facilities in Trondheim

· Captured and stole the Norwegian Bank’s printing plates

· Stealing 75,000 ration books that helped prevent a cut in rations

· Destruction of facilities used to produce sulphuric acid

· Destruction and/or serious damage to 40 aircraft under repair at a tram depot

· Destroying machinery at arms factories

· Destruction of railways and carriages after D-Day to make it more difficult for the Nazis to move troops

· Burning lots of lubricating oils at a factory in Oslo

· Assassinating many leading Wehrmacht figures

· New Years Eve 1944, they bombed the Gestapo headquarters in Oslo

· They also bombed the employment office which prevented the Nazi’s from forcing Norwegian men into the army

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

· Oral history interview with Gunnar Sønsteby

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