This beauty queen became a top-tier spy in World War II
Before World War II began, Krystyna Skarbek was a Polish countess and beauty queen. When German tanks crossed over into Poland, she immediately volunteered to spy for the British and began an espionage career under the alias Christine Granville.
Granville began by acting as a smuggler between Hungary and Poland. On her first mission, Granville and another spy skied across the 8,600-foot-high Tatra Mountains to sneak propaganda into Poland during a winter that hit record low temperatures.
After making it through the mountains and boarding a train to Warsaw, Granville realized they would be discovered by German soldiers searching the train. So, she flashed the Gestapo officer a winning smile and convinced him to smuggle the “black market tea” into the country for her so she could give it to her “sick mother.” The officer duly carried the documents for Granville.
Granville was known for her daring and a love of men. She once walked into a Gestapo-controlled prison in an area where she was a wanted fugitive to rescue her lover and fellow spy before his planned execution.
This wasn’t the only time Granville saved a spy she was sleeping with. In another incident, she was arrested in Budapest with Andrzej Kowerski. The Gestapo officers who were holding them were attempting to prove they were foreign agents when Granville played up a flu she was fighting. After hacking for a few minutes, she bit her tongue to draw blood and the guards believed she had tuberculosis. They Germans released the pair to avoid getting infected.
Not all of her missions were about misdirection though. Granville carried a pistol and knife for much of the war and used them. She also blew up bridges and other infrastructure to limit the movement of German forces in occupied Poland.
Granville is widely-believed to have been the inspiration for Vesper Lynd, the first Bond girl. (The author of the Bond series, Sir Ian Fleming, was a high-ranking member of British intelligence and would have read reports of her exploits). Also, she was the favorite spy of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, according to his daughter.
She was very proud of her exploits and adopted her alias as her legal name after the war. Sadly, Granville died shortly after the war. In 1952, she was murdered by a former lover when she broke up with him to accept a marriage proposal from Kowerski. Today, many of her reports, her equipment, and her medals are in the collections of the Imperial War Museum.
A biography of Granville, “The Spy Who Loved,” is available from author Clare Muller.