The One-Legged Female Espionage Agent Who Was The Terror of Nazi Germany In WW2

German troops in Paris. Bundesarchiv - CC BY-SA 3.0 de
German troops in Paris. Bundesarchiv - CC BY-SA 3.0 de

The Nazis considered agent Nicolas to be the most dangerous spy of all – and rightly so – despite the fact that “Agent Nicolas” had only one leg!

Virginia “Dindy” Hall Goillot was born on April 6, 1906, in Baltimore, Maryland to a wealthy family. She grew up a tomboy who loved hiking, hunting, and horseback riding; providing excellent training for what was to come.

A student of the prestigious Radcliffe College and Barnard College (now Columbia University), she mastered French, Italian, and German. Wanting to become a diplomat, she completed her studies in Europe and started work in 1931 as a Consular Service Clerk at the American Embassy in Warsaw, Poland.

Her life was going well until the following year when she went on vacation in Turkey and accidentally shot herself. Hall had been climbing a fence with a shotgun in her hand, when she fell and blasted her left foot off – requiring amputation below the knee.

Fortunately, she took it well. Back in the US, she was fitted with a custom-made wooden prosthetic leg which she jokingly called “Cuthbert.” However, her good humor did not last.

Hall had taken the Foreign Service exam three times, and despite proving her fluency in many languages, was denied. When she asked why she was told it was because she lacked a leg. She quit her job in May 1939 and moved to Paris.

She was wondering what to do with her life when the decision was made for her. The Phony War between Germany and France had begun – a series of minor skirmishes that preceded WWII. Hall took a first aid course and became an ambulance driver on the front line.

On May 10, 1940, the Germans launched their full-scale invasion. France surrendered on June 22, so Hall went to Britain where she got a job at the US Embassy in August. While there, the Germans again chose her career path.

Having survived the air raids on London, she decided to take the War to Germany. Joining the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), she resigned her job at the Embassy in February 1941 and began her training in sabotage, spy craft, communications, and weapons.

Virginia Hall Goillot Photo Credit
Virginia Hall Goillot.

She would take on many names, including Marie Monin, Germaine, Diane, Marie of Lyon, Camille, and Nicolas. To the Germans, however, she became “Artemis” and “the limping lady.”

Returning to France on August 23, she became Brigitte LeContre – a French-American reporter for the New York Post, possibly because America was still neutral. Hall was only to do a six-month stint but spent the next 15 months in Lyon helping the resistance with supplies, weapons, and funding through parachute drops.

When not busy doing that, she went on reconnaissance and sabotage missions. She also rescued downed Allied airmen and got them out of the country, as well as springing POWs out of prison camps.

Before long, both the Gestapo and the collaborationist, Vichy French Regime were looking for her.

By November 1942, the Germans gave up the pretense of an independent Southern France, putting Nikolaus “Klaus” Barbie – “the Butcher of Lyon,” in charge. He put out wanted ads for Hall throughout the country, complete with a hefty bounty on her head.

With France getting too hot, she fled to neutral Spain via the treacherous Pyrenees Mountains – made even worse as it was winter. Before she did, she contacted her SOE handlers, expressing her hope that Cuthbert would not give her any trouble. Not understanding who Cuthbert was, they replied, “If Cuthbert gives you trouble, eliminate him.”

Reaching Spain without a visa, she was thrown into the Figueres Prison for six weeks. A released inmate contacted the American Consul who got her out.

Hall then spent four months as a reporter for the Chicago Times while running safe houses for people fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Then she got bored and asked the SOE for a transfer. They felt that as a woman, she had to be protected. This infuriated her and explains what happened next.

On March 10, 1944, with the approval of the SOE, Hall joined the US Office of Strategic Services – precursor of the CIA. Back in London, they trained her as a wireless radio operator and then sent her back into France’s Haute-Loire region.

Located in central France, she became an elderly milkmaid – complete with full length padded skirts to make her fatter, and a shuffling walk to hide her limp. To stay ahead of the Gestapo who were trying to hone in on her radio signals, she always spent the night in a different place while she reported on German troop movements.

As the Normandy Landings neared, she organized the local resistance to blow up bridges, rail lines, and military outposts to draw attention away from the beaches. It was all out war to keep the Germans guessing as to where the real landings were to take place.

Hall receiving the Distinguished Service Cross from General Donovan Photo Credit
Hall receiving the Distinguished Service Cross from General Donovan.

On August 26, the German forces at Le Chambon surrendered to Hall’s forces in southern France.

On September 4, she coordinated a very special parachute drop of Allied men – one of whom was Lieutenant Paul Goillot, the French-American who became her husband in 1950. Their job was to remove the last of the German resistance in France.

By September 25, they were in the liberated city of Paris where Hall was told to go home. She refused. It was clear the Germans intended to put up a fight, so she volunteered to go to Austria.

She went to Switzerland on April 25, 1945, where she and other volunteers waited to get into Austria. Germany surrendered the following month, so the operation was scrapped.

Hall got the Distinguished Service Cross on September 23 (the only civilian woman to get one during WWII) and was made an honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire. In 1951, she joined the newly-formed CIA – a job she held until her retirement in 1966.

Shahan Russell

Shahan Russell is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE