Jeannie Rousseau de Clarens, valiant WWII spy, dies
Jeannie de Clarens, an amateur spy who passed a wealth of information to the British about the development of the V1 and V2 rockets during World War II and survived stays in three concentration camps for her activities, died Aug. 23 in Montaigu, southeast of Nantes, France. She was 98.
The death was confirmed by her son, Pascal.
In 1943, Jeannie Rousseau, as she was then known, was an interpreter in Paris for an association of French businessmen, representing their interests and helping them negotiate contracts with the German occupiers. She was young and attractive. She spoke flawless German. She was a favorite with the German officers, who were completely unaware that the woman they knew as Madeleine Chauffour had been reporting to a French intelligence network, the Druids, organized by the Resistance.
Getting wind of a secret weapons project, she made it her mission to be on hand when the topic was discussed by the Germans, coaxing information through charm and guile.
“I teased them, taunted them, looked at them wideeyed, insisted that they must be mad when they spoke of the astounding new weapon that flew over vast distances, much faster than any airplane,” she told The Washington Post in 1998. “I kept saying, ‘What you are telling me cannot be true!’ I must have said that 100 times.”
One officer, eager to convince her, let her look at drawings of the rockets.
Most of what she heard was incomprehensible. But, blessed with a near- photographic memory, she repeated it in detail to her recruiter, Georges Lamarque, at a safe house on the Left Bank.
In London, intelligence analysts, led by Reginald V. Jones, marveled at the quality of the information they were receiving from Paris, notably a startling document called the Wachtel Report. Delivered in September 1943, it identified the German officer in charge of the rocket program, Col. Max Wachtel; gave precise details about operations at the testing plant in Peenemünde, on the Baltic coast in Pomerania; and showed planned launch locations along the coast from Brittany to the Netherlands.
Relying on this information, the British organized several bombing raids against the plant, which delayed development of the V2 and spared untold thousands of lives in London.
In 1940-1944: The Secret History of the Atlantic Wall” (2003), historian Remy Desquesnes called the Wachtel Report a “masterpiece in the history of intelligence gathering.” When Jones asked who had sent the report, he was told that the source was known only by the code name Amniarix and that “she was one of the most remarkable young women of her generation.”
Jeannie Yvonne Ghislaine Rousseau was born April 1, 1919, in Saint-Brieuc, in Brittany. Her father, Jean, a veteran of World War I, was a senior official with the foreign ministry and, after retiring, the mayor of the 17th Arrondissement in Paris, on the Right Bank. Her mother was the former Marie Le Charpentier.
Adept at languages, Rousseau performed brilliantly at the elite Sciences Po, graduating at the top of her class in 1939. When war broke out, her father moved the family to Dinard, in Brittany, which he thought would be beyond the reach of the Germans.
When the occupying forces arrived, Rousseau agreed to act as an interpreter for town officials and kept her ears open. “The Germans still wanted to be liked then,” she told The Post. “They were happy to talk to someone who could speak to them.”