Britain nabbed Nazi spy to safeguard WWII invasion

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The arrest significantly changed the direction of the Second World War, according British MI5 Security Service's official historians.

London -- Britain arrested a Nazi spy in 1942 to stop him blowing the cover for the Allied invasion of North Africa, a move which could have changed the course of World War II, files released Tuesday showed.

The Royal Navy pounced on wireless operator Gastao de Freitas Ferraz on a fishing vessel in the Atlantic Ocean to prevent him spotting the incoming Allied warships convoy of US General George Patton from and telling Nazi Germany.

Had he done so, it could have blown the October 1942 Operation Torch invasion, potentially altering the whole direction of the war, the British MI5 Security Service's official historian said.

Capturing Ferraz, from neutral Portugal, also risked exposing Britain's most secret source -- the Enigma code-breaking machine, which had been interpreting his messages.

Britain was using double agents to spread misinformation, convincing the Nazis that the attack would take place in northern France or Norway.

"This would not have worked if Gastao de Freitas Ferraz had not been captured," said MI5 biographer Christopher Andrew. "He was on the tail of Patton's troops, and would have told the Germans where they were really going and could have affected the outcome of the whole war."

Ferraz had been transmitting encrypted messages from the fishing vessel Gil Eannes in the Atlantic Ocean, the declassified files released by the National Archives showed.

He was discovered when "a most secret source" tipped off MI5 that a German agent had contacted someone on the boat in June 1942.

The Nazis were paying him to pass on low-level information about Allied shipping to U-boat commanders.

After initially holding off, the British battleship HMS Duke of York intercepted the Gil Eannes en route from Newfoundland to Lisbon to prevent it getting close to the Allied convoy.

Ferraz was first taken to Gibraltar then interrogated in London. He confessed to helping the Nazis and was imprisoned for the rest of the war.

In a bid to smooth things over with Portugal, a January 1943 note from the Foreign Office to Lisbon explained: "While a large convoy was on its way to North Africa for the operations which began there shortly afterwards, Gil Eannes was following a course which would have brought her directly into the route of the convoy. Owing to the obvious importance of preserving secrecy regarding the movements of this convoy, it was of vital importance that Freitas should have no opportunity of indulging in his past practices and reporting its movements.”

The note added: "Orders were therefore given to remove him at sea before contact was made with the convoy, and to place an armed guard on board the Gil Eannes in order to ensure that if Freitas had any accomplices they would not be in a position to pass any information to the Axis."


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