June 30, 1898|
|Died||August 15, 1941
Tower of London, England
|Cause of death||Shot by a military firing squad|
|Resting place||St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cemetery, Kensal Green, London|
|Criminal charge||Section 1 of the Treachery Act 1940|
Josef Jakobs (30 June 1898 – 15 August 1941) was a German spy who became the last person to be executed at the Tower of London. He was captured shortly after parachuting into the United Kingdom during the Second World War. Convicted of espionage under the Treachery Act 1940, Jakobs was shot by a military firing squad. He was not hanged because he was captured as an enemy combatant and not by the civilian police service.
Jakobs, who was a German citizen, was born in Luxembourg in 1898. During the First World War he served in the German infantry, rising to the rank of Leutnant, in the 4th Foot Guards. Jakobs then went to Germany and trained as dentist and married another one with whom he had three children. In the recession that hit Germany in the 1930s, Jakobs lost his job as a dentist and discovered alternatives sources of income in crime and then spying. In June 1940, ten months after the outbreak of the Second World War, Jakobs was drafted into the Wehrmacht as an Oberleutnant. However, when it was discovered that he had been gaoled in a Swiss prison from 1935-37 for several criminal offences, he was forced to resign his commission in the Wehrmacht. Jakobs also was involved in helping Jews escape, but for payment; this proved to be the final straw for his German handlers. Jakobs was demoted to a feldwebel (NCO) and placed in the Meteorologischen Dienst (meteorological service) of the Heer. Shortly afterwards he also began working for the Abwehr, the intelligence department of the German Army. As with other spies such the Dutchman Johannes Dronkers, it is unclear when Jakobs was recruited and he may have been an undercover agent for some years as part of his cover. Dronkers was a Dutch spy who had spied on his country for years prior to war, and was recognized by a Dutch intelligence officer who had fled at the start of the war. It was common for the Abehwar to spend years preparing spies, which even involved them working at mundane jobs to give them some degree of cover. Other spies worked as waiters, post office clerks or even chauffeurs until they seemed ready for the mission. The German secret services had a habit of recruiting hard-up people with specific skills, for example in World War One they wanted shipping experts, such as Carl Hans Lody.
On 31 January 1941, Jakobs was flown from Schipol Airport in the Netherlands to Ramsey in Huntingdonshire. However his parachute was seen descending by the local Home Guard. They quickly reached his landing point because Jakobs had broken his ankle in the jump (it had struck the fuselage as he left the plane); he had also been firing his pistol into the air to summon help. The German spy was caught still wearing his flying suit and carrying £500 in British currency, forged papers, a radio, and a German sausage.
He was taken to Ramsey police station before being transferred to Wandsworth Prison in London. During his interrogation by SIS in the UK it became apparent that Jakobs was a hardcore member of the Nazi Party and that like another Czech spy who had parachuted in, Karl Richter; he would not co-operate or help himself, but became confrontational under questioning and unwilling to pass information which might have spared him. Other agents like 'Tate' confessed everything and helped save their lives, but Jakobs would not, perhaps because he was worried about what would happen to his family in Germany. Interrogation by SIS was extremely tough, and it involved being stood infront of senior officers and warned of the consequences of not answering questions in full, and then being shown obituaries of hanged spies.
Military trial and execution
Jakobs' court martial took place in front of a military tribunal at Duke of York's Headquarters in Chelsea, London SW3, now the Saatchi Gallery, on 4-5 August 1941. The trial held was in camera because the German agent had been apprehended in a highly-classified intelligence operation known as the Double Cross System. The British were aware Jakobs was coming because his arrival information had been passed on to MI5 by the Welsh nationalist and Abwehr double agent Arthur Owens. After a two-day trial which involved hearing the testimonies of eight witnesses, Jakobs was found guilty of spying and sentenced to death. Jakobs wrote a letter to the British authorities begging for clemency and saying that he meant Britain no harm, and that he had a wife and children back home to look after. A final letter to his family went undelivered for 50 years as his family had been bombed out back home in Germany. It was eventually delivered to his granddaughters.
Jakobs's execution took place within the miniature rifle range in the grounds of the Tower of London on 15 August 1941. He refused to see a priest beforehand, and had to be assisted into the seat to be shot. Jakobs was executed while seated blindfolded in a brown Windsor chair due to his broken ankle. Eight soldiers from the Holding battalion of the Scots Guards, armed with .303 Lee Enfields, took aim at a white cotton target (the approximate size of a matchbook) pinned over Jakobs' heart, his last words were "Now shoot straight, you tommies". The squad fired in unison at 7.12 after being given a silent signal from Lieutenant-Colonel C.R. Gerard (Deputy Provost Marshal for London District). Jakobs died instantly. A subsequent postmortem examination found that one bullet had hit Jakobs in the head and the other seven had been on or around the marked target area.
Following the execution, Jakobs' body was buried in an unmarked grave at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cemetery, Kensal Green, London. The location used for Jakobs' grave has since been re-used so the original grave site is difficult to find.
All other German spies condemned to death in the UK during the Second World War were executed by hanging at HMP Wandsworth in south London.
- "Details of Jakobs trial and execution". www.stephen-stratford.co.uk. Retrieved 2 June 2012.
- "Britain’s first double agent: the spy who tricked us all". London: Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 29 December 2012.
- Details of Jakobs trial and execution
- More on Jakobs
- Josef Jakobs at Find-A-Grave
- RAF Upwood - More information on Jakobs