Carré, Mathilde (1908–c. 1970)

views updated

Carré, Mathilde (1908–c. 1970)

French spy and triple agent, known as La Chatte ("The Cat"). Name variations: Carre. Born Mathilde-Lucie Bélard in Chateauroux, France, in 1908 (some sources cite 1910); studied law at the Sorbonne; married Maurice Carré (a schoolteacher), in 1933 (divorced 1939).

Joined Army Nurse Corps at start of World War II; became leading member of the Interallié spy network; arrested and interrogated by the Germans (November 1941); turned against her former comrades and began working for the Gestapo; as a result, the Interallié network was destroyed; arrested in England (June 1942) and returned to France after the war; found guilty of treason and sentenced to death (1949); upon appeal, the sentence was reduced to life imprisonment; released (1954) and lived in seclusion under a new identity until her death.

Known as "the cat" and despised by her former comrades in the French resistance movement because of her treachery, Mathilde Carré lived a prewar existence that was almost dull in its conventional contours. Born as Mathilde-Lucie Bélard in 1908 into a bourgeois family in Chateauroux, she earned a law degree at the Sorbonne. After graduation, she married Maurice Carré, a schoolteacher, and moved with him to Oran, Algeria. They divorced after six years (1939), and she returned to France on the eve of World War II. During the brief struggle to hold back the German onslaught (1939–1940), resulting in a catastrophic defeat for the French in June 1940, Mathilde Carré served as a member of the French Army's nurse corps. After the defeat, she was evacuated to the southern city of Toulouse. Here she met a Polish military intelligence officer, Captain Roman Garby-Czerniawski, who remained in France as part of a network to spy on the Germans and transmit the data to the Polish embassy in Madrid. Garby-Czerniawski had been recruited by the overall chief of Polish intelligence in France, Colonel Wincenty Zarembski, the man responsible for brilliantly improvising the creation of an anti-German spy operation.

Using the papers of a Frenchman killed in the fighting, Garby-Czerniawski (code-named "Valentin") was a bold operative who quickly organized an effective network of agents that called itself Interallié. From his headquarters in Paris, he masterminded a rapidly growing organization, and by the time wireless contact was established with London in early 1941 the ring consisted of agents operating in almost all of the German-occupied zone of France. He and Mathilde Carré had become lovers, and she quickly emerged as one of Interallié's most valuable members. Cool-headed and capable of inspiring confidence in her fellow spies, Carré became known to them as La Chatte (The Cat), which was also her code name.

By late summer 1941, the Interallié network was operating at maximum effectiveness when it had operatives working in 14 designated districts of German-controlled France, each with its own couriers and chief agents. At full strength, Interallié could boast of roughly 120 agents strategically located in the heart of industrial centers, British channel ports and Luftwaffe airfields. Besides the ring's main transmitter in Paris, they were now able to use three additional transmitters to send intelligence data to England. Unfortunately, their luck ran out in November 1941. This was in part due to the arrival in Paris of Sergeant Hugo Bleicher, a former Gestapo agent who had been assigned to work for the Abwehr, the German military intelligence service. Specially chosen to wipe out Interallié, Bleicher possessed talents as an intelligence agent that guaranteed doom for the Allied spy network. The fatal blow came after a major lapse of security in Cherbourg in early November 1941, which provided the Germans with crucial information about the ring and enabled them to round up most of the members. Harsh interrogation methods including physical torture provided Bleicher's men with major pieces of information. Garby-Czerniawski was arrested early in the morning of November 17, 1941, and a few hours later Bleicher arrested an unsuspecting Mathilde Carré.

When Garby-Czerniawski refused to reveal any useful information to his German interrogators despite many hours of brutal torture, Bleicher decided to concentrate on Carré. His strategy, which was very different in her case, emphasized a psychological offensive against the prisoner rather than the infliction of physical pain. First he initiated a dramatic change in her surroundings, having her moved from a bleak prison cell to a place of startling contrast, the five-star Hotel Edouard VII on the exclusive Avenue de l'Opéra; the hotel also happened to be Abwehr headquarters in Paris. Over a sumptuous meal, Bleicher was able to convince Carré that by working for him she would not only save herself from torture and probable death but also save the lives of her comrades whom he would protect from execution. All that was required was that Carré now begin working for the Abwehr, helping them to deceive the British by feeding them false information via Interallié transmitters. In her memoirs, written at the end of her life, Mathilde Carré would later admit that within hours of being interrogated by Hugo Bleicher she would commit "the greatest act of cowardice in my life … a purely animal cowardice," which consisted not only of promising to collaborate with the Germans but also of becoming Hugo Bleicher's mistress.

Within days of "turning," Carré was working to assist Bleicher in rounding up the remaining members of Interallié who still remained at large. Now operating as a double agent, The Cat led Bleicher to the homes and meeting places of a number of men and women who had only days before been her trusted comrades. She coldbloodedly identified one of them, Claude Jouffret, by greeting him with a kiss at the Café Louis XIV. Bleicher's agents seized the four radio transmitters of the Interallié network, moving to a Paris suburb so as to continue sending messages to London as if nothing had happened. Since Carré provided the Abwehr with all necessary codes, transmission schedules and prearranged security checks, there was little that might arouse the suspicions of British intelligence. However, one of the few members of Interallié who still remained free, Pierre de Vomécourt, began to suspect that Carré was, in some way he could not define, acting in a suspicious manner. To test her loyalty, in January 1942 he asked her to procure some forged identity documents. She showed up the next day, bringing with her a perfect set of papers complete with authentic German stamps. On top of this, she produced a photograph and with an air of studied casualness asked De Vomécourt if he recognized the man in the photo, who was an agent of Britain's Special Operations Executive (SOE).

His suspicions confirmed, De Vomécourt vehemently accused Mathilde Carré of treachery and working for the Nazis. Confronted by the facts, she broke down in tears and confessed. Within the rules governing the precarious world of espionage, it would not have been unreasonable for De Vomécourt to kill Carré, warn the remaining members of Interallié of her treason, and flee himself. But his plans were considerably more complex. De Vomécourt persuaded Carré to once more work for the Allies, making her a triple agent. Soon after this dramatic change in her loyalties, she informed Bleicher that De Vomécourt was planning to go to England for an important meeting with British intelligence chiefs, and that she was being considered for inclusion on this important mission. Though she convinced Bleicher, he in turn had considerable difficulty convincing his superiors of the value to the Abwehr of allowing Carré to make a secret trip to Britain. Eventually, Bleicher received permission for Carré and De Vomécourt to leave France. After two failed attempts by British intelligence agents to locate the two key Interallié agents on an isolated beach, they were finally picked up and taken to London in late February 1942.

Safely arrived across the channel at Dartmouth, Carré was debriefed by British intelligence. She broke down almost immediately, admitting her capitulation under Bleicher's interrogations and her work for the Abwehr. She also explained her return to the Interallié fold under De Vomécourt's leadership several months previously. Not surprisingly, Britain's SOE imprisoned Carré for the duration of World War II, first at Holloway and then in the "D" wing of Aylesbury prison. Returned to France after the war, she spent three years at La Sante and Rennes. Her January 1949 trial, which lasted four days, resulted in a death sentence, but upon appeal this was reduced to life imprisonment. Her defense attorney did not dispute her treasonous behavior but argued that the judges should "consider that this woman was faced with the choice of life or death. Do not forget that from the beginning of the resistance she was a heroine. Would you put to death those who at the beginning sowed the seed of faith and later overestimated their own strength?" Carré was released from prison in September 1954 and attempted to resume her life with a new identity. By the early 1960s, when she published her memoirs, her health had begun to fail and she was rapidly losing her eyesight. Virtually forgotten by the world, Mathilde Carré died in total obscurity in the early 1970s.


Buranelli, Vincent and Nan. Spy/Counterspy: An Encyclopedia of Espionage. NY: McGraw-Hill, 1982.

Carré, Mathilde. I was "The Cat": The Truth about the Most Remarkable Woman Spy since Mata Hari—by Herself. Translated by Mervyn Savill. London: Souvenir Press, 1960.

——. J'ai été "La Chatte." Préface d'Albert Naud. Paris: Morgan, 1959.

Cookridge, E.H. Set Europe Ablaze. London: Pan Books, 1966.

Franklin, Charles. The Great Spies. NY: Hart Publishing, 1967.

Fuller, Jean Overton. The German Penetration of SOE: France 1941–1944. London: William Kimber, 1975.

Keegan, John, ed. Who Was Who in World War II. NY: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1978.

Mahoney, M.H. Women in Espionage: A Biographical Dictionary. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 1993.

Miller, Russell. The Resistance. Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1979.

Minney, Rubeigh J. Carve Her Name with Pride. London: Collins, 1965.

Paine, Lauran. German Military Intelligence in World War II: The Abwehr. NY: Stein and Day, 1984.

——. Mathilde Carré, Double Agent. London: Hale, 1976.

Richelson, Jeffrey T. A Century of Spies: Intelligence in the Twentieth Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Seth, Ronald. Encyclopedia of Espionage. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1974.

Singer, Kurt D. Spies for Democracy. Minneapolis, MN: Dennison, 1960.

West, Nigel, ed. The Faber Book of Treachery. London: Faber and Faber, 1995.

Wighton, Charles. The World's Greatest Spies: True-Life Dramas of Outstanding Secret Agents. NY: Taplinger, 1966.

Young, George Gordon. The Cat with Two Faces. Reprint ed. London: White Lion, 1975.

John Haag , Associate Professor, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia

About this article

Carré, Mathilde (1908–c. 1970)

Updated About content Print Article