The piece below is a response by Dr. Marek Chodakiewicz to an August 29 article in the Washington Post entitled “A diminutive woman — and a spy who defied courage.”
Thank you for sharing the story of brave Jeannie Rousseau de Clarens, a French spy for the Allies during the Second World War, who was deservedly decorated by the CIA (David Ignatius, “A diminutive woman — and a spy who defied courage,” August 29). She indeed was formidable. However, you falsely credited her with the discovery of the secret German weapon, the V-2 rocket, and its clandestine factory at the island of Peenemünde on the Baltic Coast in 1943, which allowed the British to destroy the facility. The bountiful charms of this particular French honeypot and her photographic memory notwithstanding, intelligence coups rarely can be boiled down to a single feat of a James or Jane Bond.
Spying tends to be a multi-year, multi-layered, and collective effort, including collection and analysis. In the case of the Third Reich’s V-rockets (both V-1 and V-2), it was mostly a Polish collective effort, who accounted for 95% of all Allied intelligence from the continent after mid-1940, according to many sources, including the magisterial Tadeusz Dubicki, Daria Nałęcz, and Tessa Sterling, eds., Intelligence Co-Operation Between Poland and Great Britain During World War II, vol. 1: The Report of the Anglo-Polish Historical Committee (London and Portland, OR: Vallentine Mitchell, 2005). (See my review in the Intelligencer, Fall 2006-Spring 2007.) And even the Poles approached the task through a variety of independent, and competing, efforts which eventually led not only to the bombing of Peenemünde, but also to capturing a live V-2 rocket at a Nazi training ground and transporting it to the UK (Allan Williams, Operation Crossbow: The Untold Story of the Search for Hitler’s Secret Weapons (London: Random House, 2013), 274-275).
First to bump into the Third Reich’s V-rocket program was the “West” (Zachód) intelligence outfit of the Polish ultranationalist Lizard Union (ZJ) in 1940. Elements of the rocket were produced in Bydgoszcz. They further spied out the Peenemünde facility, where liquid fuel was produced, and noted rumors of a secret testing grounds for the rockets in Blizne-Pustkowo near the confluence of the San and Vistula Rivers. Fortunately, however, the operatives had managed to share their intelligence haul, including the blueprints of the weapons, with the mainstream Union of Armed Struggle/Home Army (ZWZ/AK)’s long range intelligence structure codenamed “Market Stall” (Stragan) of which the “West” was an autonomous part.
Meanwhile, a parallel effort by the AK’s Air Force intelligence “Pawnshop” (Lombard) group, or, more precisely, its “Baltic” subsection, resulted in a full penetration of Peenemünde. This was possible because yet another Polish extreme nationalist underground organization “Sword and Plow” (Miecz i Pług — MiP) turned a Wehrmacht NCO or officer, Roman Träger. Falsely described as an Austrian anti-Nazi, Träger was a Pole with German ethnic roots (Volksdeutsche) compelled to serve in Hitler’s army. He was recruited for the MiP by his own father, Augustyn, who was an operative of the outfit and, additionally, headed the Baltic’s 303 cell. Another regional clandestine association, the Pomeranian Gryffon (Gryf Pomorski) contributed further information on the V-rocket project. Independently, the Pawnshop also dispatched its agent Jan Szreder to Peenemünde. He involved a number of Polish slave laborers in his operation. Together they drafted a plan of the entire facility to scale.
Building up on the intelligence provided by the “West” and other groups, the Pawnshop verified the Peenemünde facility and monitored the Blizne-Pustkowo polygon. The AK informed London. The British duly bombed the former, and the Polish guerrillas stole a stray V-2 rocket from the latter. Incidentally, the Polish underground maintained a net of agents in France who located 173 launching pads for the V-weapons. The British were able to bomb 83 of them. Throughout, from the beginning of the war, the Polish underground stayed in touch with the Polish Government-in-Exile, which routinely informed the British about such issues.
The price the Polish intelligence agents paid was dear. Between July 1942 and May 1943, the Gestapo arrested over 90 operatives of the ZJ “West” ring: forty of them were decapitated in Berlin, and the rest sent to concentration camps. The Germans were particularly brutal with the head of the ring, Second Lieutenant Stanisław Joyte, who was a legless war invalid, torturing him relentlessly throughout. He never broke down. The head of the Home Army Air Force intelligence “Panwnshop” group Antoni Kocjan was first arrested and imprisoned at Auschwitz and, later, executed at the Pawiak Prison in Warsaw. The guerrilla commander who captured and secured a live V-2 rocket, Colonel Łukasz Ciepliński, was judicially murdered by the Communists after the war. And so were many others. Unfortunately, neither the CIA nor The Washington Post know anything about it. It is time to take note.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz
Professor of History
Kościuszko Chair in Polish Studies
The Institute of World Politics
Washington, DC, 30 August 2017