A Secret War and a Dedicated Spy

| Madame Fourcade’s Secret War
Madame Fourcade’s Secret War

BOOK REVIEW: Madame Fourcade’s Secret War:  The Daring Young Woman Who Led France’s Largest Spy Network Against Hitler

By Lynne Olson

Reviewed by Rick Ledgett

Rick Ledgett served as the Deputy Director of the National Security Agency from January 2014 until his retirement in April 2017, culminating a nearly 40-year career in cryptology at NSA and in the U.S. Army. He previously led the Media Leaks Task Force, the Agency’s response to the Snowden leaks and was the first National Intelligence Manager for Cyber at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and he directed NSA’s 24/7 cyber threat operations center.

The most effective leader of the French Underground, who ran the largest and most productive spy ring working against the Nazis, was not a man.  It was Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, who at 31 years old, left her life of privilege in Paris to fight against the German invaders in 1941.  Her story is told by Lynne Olson in her New York Times bestseller, Madame Fourcade’s Secret War, published in 2019.  It is an enthralling read, filled with tension, drama, and stories of humanity during the most difficult of times.  Ms. Olson is an experienced storyteller who has written and co-written a number of World War II histories, and in her prologue says that she ran across Madame Fourcade’s story while writing another book and felt compelled to tell it on its own.

In reading the book, one wonders how Madame Fourcade and her network, called the Alliance, survived.  Anyone with a smidgeon of knowledge about intelligence tradecraft will wince when they read of their large group meetings, writing and storage of incriminating documents, and repetitive moves in what we now call “pattern of life” activities.  But, despite losses in personnel that sometimes rendered entire sections of France dark to the Alliance, they kept coming back.  In large part, that was because of the fierce loyalty and respect in which the resistance agents held Madame Fourcade.  Although a woman in what was very much a man’s game, and additionally encumbered by her beauty and youth, she had a fierce will and great charisma.  She did not hesitate to put her life on the line, particularly in support of those she recruited; on several occasions she skirted capture by the Gestapo in order to warn her agents.  She earned the respect of all those in her network, as well as of British Intelligence, who funded them and provided requirements and other support.

The Alliance became a major thorn in the side of the Gestapo, who exerted great efforts to capture them.  The Germans recruited informants, used direction-finding gear to locate Alliance clandestine transmitters, terrorized towns in which Alliance members were believed to be located, and tortured many of those arrested, before shipping them off to death camps.

Because the Alliance used animals as code names for their personnel, the Germans referred to the group as Noah’s Ark.  Madame Fourcade chose Hedgehog as her nom de guerre.

The Alliance made contributions to British knowledge throughout France, but nowhere was it more important than along the coast.  In the early part of the war it was intelligence on the disposition and defenses of the U-boat fleet that was based on the French coast that was key to Allied efforts to slow their depredations on American ships carrying military material to England.  Later in the war, the Alliance was a – if not the – principal source of detailed intelligence on the coastal terrain and German defenses along the coast of Normandy, critically important in the run-up to D-Day.  One of the Alliance products was a 55-foot-long, extraordinarily comprehensive map of the beaches used by the Allies for the invasion.

Madame Fourcade’s Secret War is a great read that tells an important story and highlights an historical figure that deserves recognition.

This book earns an impressive rating of 3.5 out of a possible 4 trench coats


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One Reply to “A Secret War and a Dedicated Spy”
  1. Fascinating to read a ‘pro’ view of a book about my God-mother. She was an extraordinary woman even in later life and the only one of the many ‘Resistance heros’ that I got to meet who one could understand to have done amazing things. All the others, just as heroic, seemed plain ordinary!
    Perspective is needed, ‘Alliance’ was by far the biggest SIS resource, reporting to my father, but the Gaullist BCRA had similar networks such as Rémy’s ‘Confrérie Notre-Dame’ (CND)