Johnny Jebsen

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Johnny Jebsen
Johnny Jebsen.png
Johann-Nielsen Jebsen

Hamburg, Germany
Died1945 (aged 27–28)
Location unknown, presumed to have died in Berlin, Germany
Spying career
Allegiance United Kingdom
ServiceSecurity Service (MI5)

Johann-Nielsen Jebsen, nicknamed "Johnny", was an anti-Nazi German intelligence officer and British double agent (code name Artist) during the Second World War. Jebsen recruited Dušan Popov (who became the British agent Tricycle) to the Abwehr and through him later joined the Allied cause. Kidnapped from Lisbon by the Germans shortly before the Normandy landings, Jebsen was tortured in prison and spent time in a concentration camp before disappearing, presumed killed, at the end of the war.


Early life[edit]

Jebsen was born in Hamburg in 1917, heir to the shipping firm Jebsen & Jebsen. His parents, who both died whilst Jebsen was still a child, were of Danish origin but held German citizenship, after moving the company to the country. Even early on, Jebsen considered his citizenship a convenience, with deep roots remaining in his Danish ancestry. During childhood he visited England and became enamoured with the country, adopting the mannerisms and the language.[1]

Jebsen attended the University of Freiburg during the 1930s, where he became close friends with Duško Popov. During this time, both showed distaste for the Nazi regime that was emerging in Germany. After graduation Jebsen moved to England, intending to study at Oxford University, although it appears he never did this. Over the next few years he moved amongst the London social set, befriending P. G. Wodehouse amongst others.[1]

Second World War[edit]

At the outset of the Second World War, Jebsen joined the German military intelligence agency—the Abwehr—largely as a way to avoid compulsory service in the army.[2] He was given a vague brief as an independent "researcher" and assigned the rank of private. In reality it meant he could continue his normal activities as an international businessman, so long as he was available to help the Abwehr when it required.

In 1940, Jebsen arranged an introduction between Popov, who the Germans hoped to recruit as an agent, and a senior Abwehr officer in Belgrade. The meeting led to Popov's recruitment, upon which he instantly offered his services to the Allies as a double agent. It is likely that Jebsen knew this early on, and often passed information to Popov which the latter believed was intended for Allied hands.[1]

During the war, Jebsen travelled freely on business, although it was not clear what he did. He married Eleonore Bothilde Peterson, an actress from Frankfurt, but had a string of mistresses across Europe.[3] Jebsen's anti-Nazi stance led to clashes with the SS, and its intelligence office, the Sicherheitsdienst.[3]

Through 1943, Jebsen, Dušan Popov and his brother Ivo (also an agent, codenamed Dreadnought) ran an operation to recruit double agents from Yugoslavia. Ivo Popov identified potential candidates, who were told they would be working for the British. First they were sent to Berlin, under the care of Jebsen, for training in the spy school before ultimately ending up in Britain (via Spain and Portugal) to work for MI5.[4]


Gestapo headquarters in Berlin, where Jebsen was held in a basement cell
Stolperstein for Jebsen in Hamburg, Hartungstraße 7[5]

On 29 April 1944, Jebsen was abducted from Lisbon, Portugal, and driven overnight to France. Aloys Schreiber, the head of German counter-intelligence in Lisbon,[6] had invited Jebsen to his office on the pretext of discussing his pending War Merit Medal. After a brief struggle Jebsen and his friend (Heinz Moldenhauer) were overpowered and bundled into a car.[7][8]

Jebsen's disappearance was a serious concern for the Allies. He had been privy to a great deal of information, not just the knowledge of Popov's double agent role, but the fact that Agent Garbo's network of sub-agents was fiction and familiarity with many details of Operation Fortitude. If he talked, the entire cover plan for the Normandy landings was at risk. After much analysis the intelligence services decided that Jebsen had been snatched because the Abwehr believed he was planning to defect, rather than that he had already turned. It is possible that Jebsen was abducted to protect Popov, who the Germans considered one of their most important agents.[9] As a precaution, the Allies suspended Popov's network of fictional sub-agents and his transmissions to his German handlers.[10]

At first Jebsen was taken to the Gestapo headquarters in Berlin, where his interrogation began. After a few weeks the Allies were encouraged, intercepts of German communications showed the Germans were interested in Jebsen's finances (he had been defrauding a number of SS officers) – there was no mention of his activities as an agent. As time progressed it appeared that agent Artist had not cracked under pressure and the Fortitude deception was safe.[11]

In July 1944, Jebsen was moved to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. When he arrived he had broken ribs and was malnourished, but still harboured thoughts of escape. He told Allied soldiers, also held in the camp, that he had been accused of helping the British and when he had refused to talk his financial fraud had been investigated. Eventually he got a message to London via a British Commando, Jack Churchill, however the War Office had no record of Jebsen's name and so the plea for help was ignored. In February 1945, Gestapo agents removed Jebsen from Sachsenhausen; it is the last sighting of him and he is presumed to have been murdered soon after. Several attempts to find him after the war were unsuccessful and he was legally declared dead on 17 February 1950.[10][12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Macintyre (2012), pp. 7–11
  2. ^ Crowdy (2011), p. 64
  3. ^ a b Macintyre (2012), pp. 83–87
  4. ^ Crowdy (2011), p. 253
  5. ^ Text of plaque: Here resided Johann-Nielsen Jebsen ; born 1917 ; abducted from Portugal by the Gestapo in 1944 ; tortured at the headquarters of Reich Security in Berlin ; murdered at Sachsenhausen in February 1945.
  6. ^ Macintyre (2012), p. 217
  7. ^ Macintyre (2012), pp. 273–274
  8. ^ Aloys SCHREIBER (1946)
  9. ^ Macintyre (2012), pp. 277–278
  10. ^ a b Crowdy (2011), p. 255
  11. ^ Macintyre (2012), pp. 293
  12. ^ Macintyre (2012), pp. 354–356


  • Crowdy, Terry (20 December 2011). Deceiving Hitler: Double-Cross and Deception in World War II. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1846031359.
  • Macintyre, Ben (2012). Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies. London: Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781408819906.
  • "Aloys SCHREIBER, alias SCHIER". The National Archives. 3 April 1946.