Lisbon, a city of spies during WWII

by  Paula Moreira

Lisbon Tour Guides ®

Lisbon and Estoril coast were  important centres of European espionage and counter-espionage during the  Second World War.

British, Americans, French, Italians and German intelligence agents rubbed shoulders around  Lisbon, Cascais and Estoril, together with  exiled European royalty, over one million refugees seeking passage to the US, secret police, captains of industry, bankers, prominent Jews, writers and artists.


Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Peggy Guggenheim, Max Ernst, Marc Chagall, Calouste Gulbenkian, Ian Fleming, Graham Greene were some of the characters that walked along the city.





 Lisbon was even mention in the cult movie Casablanca when we are told  that Ilsa was due to fly to Lisbon (not strange this link as during World War II the Casablanca-Lisbon air connection was operated by Aero Portuguese owned by the well known businessman Medeiros de Almeida which house museum is located in the city).


The neutrality of  Salazar’s dictatorship, Lisbon’s  geographical situation (not being surrounded by land as other neutral capitals as Madrid or Bern) and the use of the country as a starting point to America, turned Lisbon area   into a  crossroad of international paths.



In Lisbon, grand hotels, such as Avenida Palace, Britannia, and the former Hotels  Avis and Victoria, had their bars  and restaurants buzzed with Lisbon’s top-rank spies during the war.


Juan Pujol Garcia, born in Barcelona, was one of these double agents.  Posing as a Spanish official who was flying to London, Pujol began sending the Nazis fake news that they thought were from London, but were actually from Lisbon and later on Madrid. From a small hotel in the centre of Lisbon, Pujol created fake reports about Britain from a variety of public sources, including a tourist guide to Britain, train timetables, cinema newsreels and magazine advertisements.  He was able to built a network of imaginary spies, telling  the Germans he had recruited to feed him information. Becoming one of the most trusted Nazi’s agents he finally approached the  British in order to become an Allies’ agent. When Pujol revealed himself, he was taken to London to work for MI5 under the codename Garbo as he was such a good actor. Garbo was also in the centre of the Operation Fortitude, the plan to divert the Germans away from the Normandy landings.


As Pujol, Dusko Popov was another  great spy who kept the Germans from disembarking in Normandy. He was a Serbian rich playboy, double agent, and whose mission was to obtain information about Hitler’s Germany to the Allies and passing misinformation of the Allies to the Nazis. Known in Britain by his codename Tricycle (maybe a  reference because he was often “escorted” by two women), he enjoyed enormous freedom of action and visited Portugal many times staying in one of the best hotels in Europe- the mythical Hotel  Avis in Lisbon- and he was a frequent client of  the Casino do Estoril.


It was in this environment, on a night when Popov was gambling in the  Casino in Estoril, that  Ian Fleming, English author, journalist and naval intelligence officer (at the time working for the British secret services and in charge of watching Popov), was inspired to create the character of James Bond and the plot for his first work – Casino Royal. Ian Fleming decided to make his headquarters at the Palacio Hotel in Estoril, hotel that has hosted European nobility and that was adjoined to the Casino where he could gamble and also had a bar that served excellent cocktails (maybe martinis shaken and not stirred…)


It was in this Hotel Palacio in Estoril where the cast of the 6th movie of the James Bond Saga were lodged.   The film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, released in 1968, was largely shot in Portugal and the exterior of the hotel, the lobby, the pool and the rooms’ view, are an integral part of many of the scenes of the film.

If you want to discover more of these stories and  WWII settings  come  and  spy… Lisbon is waiting for you.

Further reading:

Harris, T. (2000) –  Garbo:The Spy Who Saved D-Day. Londres: Public Record Office.

Lockery, Neil – War in the Shadows of the City of Light, 1939-1945

Loftis, Larry, (2016) – Into the Lion’s Mouth. New York, NY : Berkley Caliber

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