About The Author
Joshua Levine was formerly a barrister, before becoming an actor and playwright. His works have been performed on the London stage and BBC Radio 4. He also wrote a documentary for BBC2 on eighteenth-century London.
His books include Fighter Heroes of WWI (a topic that has fascinated him since childhood) and Beauty and Atrocity: People, Politics and Ireland's Fight for Peace. He was the principal researcher for a number of the 'Forgotten Voices' series written by Max Arthur, before going on to author several more titles himself.
His latest book, Operation Fortitude, documents a hitherto largely overlooked espionage operation conducted by the Allies in World War II that successfully misled the Nazis as to where and when the D-Day landings would occur.
You can see a video of Joshua talking about the book here.
Operation Fortitude's success was a key to the eventual Allied victory, but the full details have never before been explored in such detail. Joshua told us about how he researched this complex operation, who the key figures were and how the Germans were deceived so completely.
Below the interview is a list of titles byJoshua Levine currently in print in the UK. You may find other editions in our 'New and Used' section by typing the author's name into the Search field at the top of this page and selecting the 'Author Exact' filter to the far right of the Search field.
Questions & Answers
This is the first book to deal with the whole story of Operation Fortitude, bringing all surrounding facts and details together. Where did your research begin?
In the National Archives at Kew. I was able to piece the story together from a number of important sources, but the most important was the PRO. In particular, the double agent story could not have been told any other way. Myths have grown up over the years about who these men and women really were, and about what they did and didn't do. Well, the answers lie in the MI5 files which have been made available at Kew. And the files don't only contain information. They also contain the tools of the agents' trade, such as false identity cards and disc codes. In one file, there is even a seventy-year old Veronal sleeping pill given to a spy by the German Intelligence Service.
In your opinion, which deception tactic played the biggest role in the success of Operation Fortitude?
Without a doubt, Operation Fortitude owed its success to the British Double Cross system. This was a network of double agents run by MI5. The Nazis believed (or at least hoped) that these men and women were loyal German spies, but they were, in fact, ultimately working for the British. These were the individuals who put across the effective parts of the Fortitude deception. Other elements of Fortitude, such as dummy ships and tanks, and fake wireless messages, were less successful. Having said that, other tactics played their part. For example, a captured German general, Hans Cramer, on his release from a British prison camp, was driven through south-west England. But he was told that he was in the south-east. He then hurried to warn Rommel that Allied forces were crowded around Dover preparing to attack the Pas de Calais - which was precisely what the Allied deceivers had hoped he would do.
Which of the double agents had the most intricate cover story?
All of the double agents had to have carefully crafted cover stories. But two really stand out. First of all, Dusko Popov, (a Yugoslav playboy codenamed Tricycle, and quite possibly an inspiration for James Bond) was regularly returning to Lisbon to deliver his reports in person to the German Intelligence Service. As he was being intensively grilled each time he arrived back in Lisbon, his cover story had to be particularly air-tight, and his performances had to be high-class. He had to learn to think like a German spy when he was supposed to be one. And then there was Juan Pujol, codenamed Garbo. For a year, Pujol pretended to the Germans that he was sending them spy reports from England - when, in fact, he was in Lisbon making his reports up using an old tourist guide and books he found in the Lisbon public library. One of his messages declared that 'Glasgow men will do anything for a litre of wine.' Yet the Germans never came to doubt him.
Had Popov been successful in warning the Americans about Pearl Harbor, do you think they would have been able to prevent it from taking place at all?
In mid-1941, Dusko Popov informed J Edgar Hoover, chief of the FBI, that the Japanese were planning an attack on Pearl Harbor. Hoover ignored him. But had Hoover passed the intelligence to the White House, as he should have done, or had MI5 passed it directly to the White House themselves, as they should have done, the Americans would have been prepared for it. Popov hadn't been given the details of precisely when and how the attack would be mounted, so it is debatable whether that it could have been prevented outright. But had Hoover taken the warning seriously, it would certainly not have come as a shocking surprise.
How was the construction of the dummy invasion craft kept a secret from British civilians as well as the Germans?
By building them at night, and in secret. For example, Folkestone Harbour was sealed off to civilians, and tarpaulins were hung across the streets while seventeen fake tank landing craft were built on the beach. They were fitted together by men of the Worcester Regiment from over a thousand separate components before being floated in the harbour.
What was Camp 020 and why was it important?
Camp 020 was Britain's spy prison. Suspected German spies were brought there (it was round the corner from Richmond tube station) and interrogated by teams led by Colonel Robin 'Tin Eye' Stephens, a man who was said to rub his hands with glee when another captured spy was on his way. Stephens used a number of innovative interrogation methods, including what has become known as 'Good Cop/Bad Cop', where he would intimidate the prisoner, while another, far more amenable, officer would play the sympathetic questioner. Camp 020 was important because it was where captured spies were turned into double agents. They would be threatened and cajoled, and a large number agreed to begin working for Britain. Those who didn't were tried, and almost invariably executed. It is worth noting that Stephens did not allow violence to be used on Camp 020 inmates.
How significant was Garbo in maintaining the cover story weeks after D-Day had occurred?
Garbo, aka Juan Pujol, was the centerpiece of the Fortitude deception. He sent a message to the Germans two days after D-Day, which convinced Hitler to reverse an order to send reinforcements from the Pas de Calais to Normandy. For two full months after the Normandy landings, the Germans fully believed, thanks to Pujol and Fortitude, that the First United States Army Group was sitting in south-east England, poised to attack the Pas de Calais. It constituted arguably the most successful military deception operation of all time. And even after the war, the Germans remained unaware that a deception had been practiced on them.
Is it correct to say Garbo was never suspected by the Nazis?
Never. Shortly after the war, he visited his German handler in Madrid. The handler praised him to the skies for all the work he had done in the Nazi cause, and asked for his help in escaping to the United States. Pujol was awarded the Iron Cross by the Nazis - and the MBE by the British.
Why were the British able to deceive the Germans so effectively?
A combination of factors are important here. First of all, the system of strategic deception came of age in 1943, when the British Chiefs of Staff began to realize that it could be a truly effective weapon. It also started to become clear, at the same time, that double cross was the best method of putting that deception across. So a very effective means of fooling the Germans was in place. The success of Fortitude itself can be put down in significant part to the arrogance and imagination of Lieutenant Colonel David Strangeways, an officer on Montgomery's staff, who ripped up the original Fortitude plan, and rewrote it according to his own cocksure instincts. And the Germans' own frailties should not be underestimated. Admiral Canaris, the chief of the German Intelligence Service until early 1944, told one of his officers, in January of that year, that he didn't care whether every German agent in Britain was under enemy control, so long as he could tell German High Command that he had agents in Britain reporting regularly. This attitude, which pervaded the entire German Intelligence Service, a consequence of fear and disloyalty, meant that the Germans were predisposed to believe much of what they were led to believe. Also, the Allies understood the importance of playing on Hitler's existing beliefs - of which they had knowledge thanks to the breaking of the Enigma code. All in all, there were a large number of factors which came together to ensure the success of Fortitude - all discussed in the book!