The Tale Of Amniarix And The Rockets
August 30, 2017 8:06 AM   Subscribe

Jeannie Rousseau de Clarens, one of the remarkable spies of World War II, died last week in France at the age of 98. Like so many intelligence officers, she had a gift for getting people to talk. But she had something else: dauntless, unblinking courage in facing the enemy.

David Ignatius, Washington Post: A diminutive woman — and a spy who defined courage
De Clarens stole one of the vital secrets of the war — Germany’s plans to build and test the V-1 and V-2 rocket bombs at Peenemünde. Her intelligence encouraged the British to bomb Peenemünde, delaying and disrupting the program, and “saving thousands of lives in the West,” said R. James Woolsey Jr., then CIA director, at a private ceremony at the agency in October 1993 honoring de Clarens.

How did this charming, diminutive woman accomplish her mission impossible? She listened. De Clarens was a fluent German-speaker, and in 1943, she teased the first threads of information about the rocket program out of some German officers she had befriended in Paris as a translator. And then she kept pulling on the string.

William Grimes, New York Times: Jeannie Rousseau de Clarens, Valiant World War II Spy, Dies at 98
“I teased them, taunted them, looked at them wide-eyed, 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 V-2 and spared untold thousands of lives in London.

In “1940-1944: The Secret History of the Atlantic Wall” (2003), the historian Rémy Desquesnes called the Wachtel Report a “masterpiece in the history of intelligence gathering.” When Mr. 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.”

In this video of the CIA ceremony, the award occurs at 45:52, followed by her charming acceptance speech (transcript).

Biography in French at Association l'Alliance (Google translation)
posted by Johnny Wallflower (13 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
I love stories like these. I always wonder if I would have been brave enough to do what she did. I would like to think so, but honestly, you just can't know until you're in it.

Thank you Johnny Wallflower for posting, and merci, merci, merci, Madame Rousseau de Clarens.
posted by widdershins at 8:31 AM on August 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

A fascinating story, and a life well and honourably lived. Merci, madame.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:53 AM on August 30, 2017

That is an amazing story about an amazing woman, and I encourage everyone to read it.
posted by languagehat at 9:38 AM on August 30, 2017

posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:02 AM on August 30, 2017

"And that's her answer: Heroism isn't a matter of choice, but of reflex. It's a property of the central nervous system, not the higher brain. If Jeannie Rousseau had needed to think about what to do, she might have joined the millions who did nothing."

I'll try, Jeannie, I'll try.
posted by BentFranklin at 10:17 AM on August 30, 2017 [5 favorites]

Which character was she in Gravity's Rainbow? And was Alan Turing, Slothrop?
posted by Oyéah at 12:09 PM on August 30, 2017

Thanks for posting this; such staggering courage in the face of such horrendous evil.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 1:13 PM on August 30, 2017

An awe-inspiring story. Imagine escaping one horrible place of torture only to have to sneak into a concentration camp...
posted by fregoli at 1:24 PM on August 30, 2017

Stories like this one put the lie to cynics like Le Carre who assert that espionage never accomplished anything important. My God, the iron will of that woman.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 1:51 PM on August 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Everytime I hear about women doing mad work in WWII, I get a tiny bit hopeful.

Anecdotally, my great aunt did crazy work in the far east for the Red Cross in WWII and got zero cred for it. Go Dorothy.
posted by Sphinx at 2:05 PM on August 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

I find stories of anti-Nazi resistance fighters really important for my mental health right now and this was a great one. Thanks for everything, Madame Clarens.
posted by WidgetAlley at 3:13 PM on August 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Wow. o.O
What a story! What a woman.
posted by pjsky at 8:15 PM on August 30, 2017

Kudos for the post title.

And, most certainly, for introducing me to an amazing woman who was in the right place at the right time with the right skills and the right stuff.

posted by bryon at 5:22 AM on August 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

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