A Portuguese spy could have changed the course of World War II according to documents declassified in London showing that if it had not been discovered, the Nazi agent would have failed Allied landing operation in North Africa in 1942.
The Portuguese Gastão de Freitas Ferraz was just a radio operator in the fishing boat 'Gil Eannes', which was allowed to sail in the Atlantic due to Portugal's neutrality during World War II.
But from the beginning of the war, the Nazis paid to Gastão to pass information to German submarines on the movement of U.S. vessels in the Atlantic Ocean, indicates the declassified the British National Archives record.
According to these documents, from his ship, the Portuguese could have detected vessels intended landing U.S. troops in North Africa, and would have passed on the information to the Germans. With that information, the German intelligence services would surely expose the motives of the Allies, who had tried to convince the Nazis that a landing would occur on the coasts of France.
Gastão thus represented a threat to the Allied plan to launch a landing in North Africa, which had to be prevented at all costs, records show.
That plan, known under the code name 'Operation Torch', sought to open a second war front in the face of the Germans, who were concentrated in the Soviet Union.
Moscow had pressed the United States and Britain to open a second front to reduce the pressure of the Nazi forces on the Russian troops, according to the documents.
Britain proposed to open the second front in Africa, which would improve the control of the Mediterranean and to prepare an invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe.
The Portuguese in his boat could have done all that plan to fail because intercepting allied contingent movements would have failed the Allied offensive in Morocco and Algeria, territory nominally in the hands of the Vichy French government, which had about 100,000 troops in the north Africa.
But Gastão was arrested in time, by order of MI5, the British counterintelligence service. According to the records, the coded messages that Gastão sent caught the attention of British intelligence in the months before the launch of the operation.
"There is no possible doubt that Gastão is a German agent", wrote the director general of MI5, Sir David Petrie, in a note to the British Foreign Office, dated October 24, 1942. Petrie judged the risk that the ship 'Gil Eannes' noticing the convoy of American ships was too high, so he ordered the sea interception of Gastão, can be read from this exciting record that seems to mix elements straight out of spy novel with historical facts.
After his arrest, the Portuguese was taken to Gibraltar and then to London, where he was interrogated by counterespionage services and recognized that he was a Nazi spy. After the war, Gastão was expelled.
And the success of the 'Operation Torch', launched in African beaches on November 8, 1942, when 600 vessels landed 70,000 Allied soldiers, was decisive for the Allied victory over the Nazis.