Jeannie Rousseau was just 20 years old when World War 2 broke out, but her young age did not deter her from joining the French Resistance. If anything, it gave her the strength to do so. By 1941 she had managed to get a job which gave her access to vast amounts of intelligence on the German military. Still, that knowledge was going to waste. “I was storing my nuts, but I had no way to pass them on,” she later said.
Then, on a night train from Paris to Vichy, she had a chance encounter with an old acquaintance from university – a certain Georges Lamarque – who was then building the Druids, an intelligence gathering network within the Resistance. Every seat was taken, so they stood in the corridor, under a flickering light bulb. In hushed tones, he asked whether she would work with him. She instantly agreed.
This collaboration would lead to one of the most important intelligence findings of the war. Through her constant contact with German officers she learned of the secret weapons programme behind the V1 and V2 missiles – long-range rocket bombs of an entirely new type. In his foreword to the report which he sent to London, Lamarque wrote: “This material looks preposterous. But I have total faith in my source.”
Of the source, British intelligence was told only that it was “a young girl, the most remarkable of her generation”. The report soon reached Winston Churchill’s desk. Based on that and other intelligence, the British Prime Minister decided that the Peenemünde site, where these superweapons were being developed, must be attacked “on the heaviest possible scale”. Close to 600 bombers were deployed to bomb the site, deep inside German territory. The attack caused heavy casualties at a neighbouring labour camp, but also succeeded in delaying progress on the bombs by several weeks.
Rousseau was born in St Brieux, Brittany, the daughter of Jean and Marie Rousseau. When the Germans invaded Paris in 1940, Jean, then the…