How Silk Stockings Almost Scuppered Adolf Hitler's Defeat

Adolf Hitler makes a speech, circa 1936, in Germany. Keystone/Getty

The threats of a Spanish spy's wife who longed for home comforts and a decent meal almost blew the cover of Britain's most important double-agent, newly declassified documents have revealed.

Juan Pujol Garcia, codenamed Agent Garbo by MI5, was a Spanish national living in the London suburb of Harrow during the Second World War. From there, he ran a network of fictitious sub-agents sending back a steady stream of false intelligence reports to his German spymasters.

His elaborate deceptions helped to convince the Nazis that D-Day landings would take place at the Pas de Calais—diverting German forces away from Normandy, the scene of the actual invasion, and saving countless lives in the process. Hitler had been expecting an invasion—but he did not know where and when. Events might have unfolded differently had details of the Allied plan leaked out.

But MI5 files released to the National Archives in Kew, London, show how Agent Garbo's scheme nearly came unstuck because his wife, Araceli, hated living in England.

Mrs Garbo resented having to swap a Mediterranean diet for rations and fancy undergarments for bare legs, and became increasingly hostile towards her absent husband; frequently threatening to go to the Spanish Embassy in London to divulge all his secrets, The Independent reported.

And so, in February 1943, files show that agent C P Harvey, of MI5, was dispatched to neutral Lisbon, Portugal, with a top secret mission: to purchase 12 pairs of silk stockings for Mrs Garbo.

On March 4, Harvey returned from Lisbon with the message: "Herewith 12 pairs of stockings for Mrs Garbo for which I expect to be repaid 10/- [10 shillings] customs duty."

News that the stockings mission had been accomplished was relayed from MI5 to the Secret Intelligence Service MI6, in a document now filed for posterity in the National Archives under the title: "To SIS re Mrs Garbo's stockings."

This was not the last of Mrs Garbo's outbursts and many more of her demands are documented. Thankfully, all of her needs were met.