Denis Barret: SOE Wireless operator in France

Flight Lieutenant Denis Barret

According to records Barrett was born on 23 January 1916 in Paris to British parents and was a tailor before joining the RAF. After being recruited by SOE he completed training and selection on 23 April 1943 and was given the code names Honoré, Innkeeper and Charles Meunier.

It is thought to have been November 1943 (dates vary) when Barrett parachuted into the Aube department in north-east France to work as the wireless operator for a circuit in the Troyes area and seven months later, he was seriously compromised and extracted by Lysander aircraft from 161 Special Duty Squadron RAF.  After additional training he returned to France by parachute in early March 1944 and worked as the wireless operator for a new circuit called Minister that was located in the Seine-et-Marne department around 34 miles from Paris.

Pierre Pulsant, the organiser of Minister circuit described Barrett as:

“A grand Officer. The ideal W/T operator. Technically perfect. Security first class. Willing to undergo any hardship for the safety of his mission. Unselfish, courageous, outstandingly efficient. A very honest and reliable man with imagination and guts. One of the best men we ever put in the field.”

Barrett had two wireless sets, one he kept in Troyes the other was hidden in the countryside around 14 miles from the town. After Abwehr wireless intelligence detected signals coming from Troyes the agent was arrested whilst transmitting to London, Barret then stopped using his set in the town and to make it difficult for the Abwehr to pinpoint his location began using his set in the countryside and never transmitted from the same location.

For over a month Barrett cycled the 14 miles to Derry-Saint-Pierre where his set was hidden whilst avoiding German patrols on the main road and sometimes cycled past stationary direction-finding vans listening out for signals, but despite ensuring he took the necessary security precautions he was eventually captured whilst in contact with London.

Typical of the confusion surrounding SOE clandestine operations, historian MRD Foot wrote that Barrett was captured whilst being part of a group that was extracting an SAS party that had got into difficulty in the forest of Fontainebleau, but this was not the case.

After the war Barrett’s name was found on the wall at Gestapo HQ at Avenue Foch in Paris. He was later moved to Frésnes Prison outside Paris and then to Buchenwald Concentration Camp. According to Foot, Barrett was among the first fifteen or thirty-one agents to be hanged at Buchenwald during the first week of September 1944. However, this does not correspond with the details in his personal file and the research conducted by the Commonwealth War Graves: Barret was one of a second group of eleven agents removed from Block 17 at Buchenwald on 4 October 1944 and killed through the course of the night. It was also discovered Barrett was shot.

Author: Alan Malcher

Military historian and defence commentator

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