Jean Deuve, the lord of the shadows

A great name in French intelligence, Colonel Jean Deuve, a fine connoisseur of Laos, is a great witness to the great international challenges that France had to face after the Second World War. Gathering a great deal of knowledge on the colonial world and in the field of intelligence during the wars of decolonization, in the 1970s he headed the “Intelligence” section of the SDECE. Return, thanks to Christophe Carichon, on the original course of a French spy.

A Norman scout in World War II

Coming from a family of Norman sailors, Jean Deuve, born in 1918, travels quite regularly, due to the multiple assignments of his father, the naval officer François Deuve. From Toulon to Cherbourg, the future intelligence officer participates very actively in the scout movement, which he allies with an unshakeable interest in the things of nature. Therefore, after his baccalaureate, he prepares for the Water and Forests competition. Its failure was quickly eclipsed: in September 1939, the Second World War began. Joining the platoon of cadets in Rennes, he was assigned to the 6th Senegalese mixed colonial regiment.

At the rank of midshipman, he fought near Manre, in the Ardennes, when the German troops launched the offensive in May 1940. Wounded during the fighting and noted for his stubborn resistance, he was still recovering when the Wehrmacht won in June 19140. Managing to escape the clutches of the new occupants, he rests in Clermont-Ferrand then in Aix-en-Provence. After several months of barracks life in Arles, he embarked for Africa, direction Dakar, then Niger in 1941.

Carrying out topographic surveys with a few skirmishers, he draws up maps, like a “geographer, naturalist and ethnologist”, in order to participate in a better knowledge of colonial territories. Showing a great capacity for adaptation in an environment he did not know, he engages in the work of observing nature and local life. The Allied landing in North Africa in November 1942, however, caused its displacement to Morocco. Tired of his inactivity, he insisted on joining a new unit: Force 136, installed in India.

This unit, closely linked to the SOE (Special Operation Executive) - a British secret service specializing in special operations - is responsible for participating in special operations in Indochina, against the Japanese occupation forces.

Lao: from force 136 to the defense of a “neutralist” line.

The mission entrusted to the members of force 136 is to conduct operations behind the Japanese lines, in order to promote their withdrawal, and ultimately, to allow France to be in a victorious position at the end of World War II. . Those who are now called "the Gaurs" are initiated into the "guerrilla". Walks, orienteering courses, shooting go hand in hand with an initiation into intelligence work and the training of a network of informants. The Normand brilliantly succeeds in this commando training, showing a capacity for topographical work and adapting to a hostile environment: the jungle. Mastery of weapons and parachute jumping must be combined with the know-how of a secret agent: spinning, management of networks, psychological actions, propaganda, mastery of local languages.

In order to prepare for the restoration of French sovereignty in Indochina, Force 136's mission is to mount maquis in the jungle and to link up with local resistance against Japanese forces. In January 1945, parachuted into Laos, a kingdom which was under French protection before the war and integrated into Indochina, the Fabre group, to which Deuve belongs, came into contact with the resistance networks and prepared the ground for the possible arrival of new strengths. The attack by Japanese forces against French garrisons and civilians in March 1945, causing civilians to retreat to remote villages and an influx of Lao volunteers, inaugurates the guerrilla war: folded into the maquis, Force 136 must harass the forces Japanese and demonstrate great mobility.

The Japanese surrender, announced on August 13, 1945, does not make the situation in Indochina any less confused. By stimulating independence tendencies, the Japanese gave way to the activities of the Viet Communists, which, added to the growing influence of the Chinese and the American desire to promote national independence, constitute a new challenge for Jean Deuve and his men. Despite the difficulties experienced by Force 136, Captain Jean Deuve manages to cling to the town of Paksane, the Norman officer becoming an increasingly important interlocutor for local representatives.

Taking root in Laos, Jean Deuve took the head of the Intelligence Service of the French forces in Laos in October 1946. While the army tried to regain control of Indochina, Laos began its process of controlled independence within the framework of of the French union. Having become ace in the field of intelligence, Deuve, carrying out propaganda activities in order to attract the support of the local populations and intoxication operations against the Vietminh guerrillas, notably succeeds in anticipating the Vietminh offensive on Laos in March 1947.

After a short return to the headquarters of the SDECE (French secret service created in January 1946) in Paris, he returned to Laos in 1949 to take the head of the new National Police of the kingdom, which had just obtained “controlled independence”. Ensuring public order, monitoring borders, fighting piracy on the banks of the Mekong, carrying out counter-espionage operations: these are the missions of this new service, headed by Jean Deuve, and based on Laotian staff and on fine networks of informants. The invasion of the Vietminh forces in 1953 put a strain on this body: to mobilize the population against the invader, Deuve set up a psychological warfare service, based on the network of police officers and with the support of the scouts, in order to revive the Laotian patriotic feeling.

Having become technical advisor to the Minister of the Interior then political advisor to Prime Minister Tiao Souvannaphouma, Deuve tries to stem foreign influences (Vietnamese, Soviet, Chinese, American and Thai) by defending a neutralist line. After a coup d'etat by the "phoumistes" (pro-Thai), affected by the upheavals and growing instability affecting Laos, Deuve finally had to leave the country in 1964.

Jean Deuve, senior official of the SDECE

After a year spent on Boulevard Mortier, in the Parisian offices of the SDECE, Jean Deuve returned to Asia. Appointed military attaché at the French embassy in Japan, he was to head intelligence for East Asia, in the context of the Sino-Japanese rivalries and the American intervention in Vietnam. Back in France at the end of 1968, Colonel Deuve became head of counter-espionage operations for Asia, the USSR, the Eastern bloc and Oceania. Shaking up habits, it breathes a new spirit into service, introducing strict safety rules. In 1976, he became head of the "Intelligence" service of the SDECE. Responsible for researching, collecting and analyzing intelligence and divided into geographical sections, it is made up of field officers and analysts handling intelligence from the Headquarters. The sources are not for the moment not communicable, Christophe Carichon could nevertheless study this period more deeply. In 1978, reaching the age limit, Deuve left the SDECE and retired.

Our opinion

If the history of intelligence for the period of the Fifth Republic suffers for the moment from a lack of sources because of the long delays of communication which cover these "secret archives", the private and family funds can contain interesting sources for better understand the functioning of the secret services. Relying primarily on the Fonds Deuve, kept in Caen, Christophe Carichon delivers here a beautiful biography of a great man of intelligence who went through the tumultuous period of decolonization.

Well written and easily accessible, this book, which can sometimes be a little too complacent with regard to Jean Deuve, shows both the genesis of intelligence practices in the extreme conditions of a guerrilla war, and the great international challenges of the war. 'after World War II. Good reading, which we strongly recommend.

Jean Deuve, by Christophe Carichon. Editions Artège, 2012.

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