30 June 1898|
|Died||15 August 1941
Tower of London, England
|Cause of death||Executed 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 and 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. 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 imprisoned in Switzerland from 1934–37 for selling counterfeit gold, he was forced to resign his commission in the Wehrmacht. Jakobs was demoted to a feldwebel (NCO) and placed in the Meteorologischen Dienst (meteorological service) of the German Army. Shortly afterwards, he also began working for the Abwehr, the intelligence department of the German Army.
Capture and interrogation
On 31 January 1941, Jakobs was flown from Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands to Ramsey in Huntingdonshire. He parachuted from the aircraft and landed in a field near Dove House Farm, but broke his ankle during the process. The following morning, Jakobs attracted the attention of two farmers, Charles Baldock and Harry Coulson, by firing his pistol into the air. Baldock and Coulson notified members of the local Home Guard who quickly apprehended Jakobs. He was caught still wearing his flying suit and carrying £500 in British currency, forged identity papers, a radio transmitter, and a German sausage.
Jakobs was taken to Ramsey Police Station before being transferred to Cannon Row Police Station in London, where he gave a voluntary statement to Major T.A. Robertson of MI5. Due to the poor condition of his ankle, Jakobs was transferred to Brixton Prison Infirmary for the night. The following day he was briefly interrogated by Lieutenant Colonel Stephens of MI5 at Camp 020 before being transferred to Dulwich Hospital where he remained for the next two months.
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, 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 that 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 testimony of eight witnesses, Jakobs was found guilty of spying and sentenced to death.
Jakobs's execution took place at the miniature rifle range in the grounds of the Tower of London on 15 August 1941. He was seated blindfolded in a brown Windsor chair. 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. The squad fired in unison at 7:12 a.m. after being given a silent signal from Lieutenant-Colonel C.R. Gerard (Deputy Provost Marshal for London District). Jakobs died instantly. A postmortem examination found that one bullet had hit Jakobs in the heart and the other four had been on or around the marked target area. Three members of the eight man firing squad had been issued with blanks, only 5 live rounds were used.
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 either Wandsworth or Pentonville prisons in London. Jakobs was the last person to be executed at the Tower of London.
- "Details of Jakobs trial and execution". www.stephen-stratford.com. Retrieved 2 June 2012.
- Levine, Joshua (2011). Operation Fortitude:The Story of the Spy Operation that Saved D-Day. HarperCollins. pp. 122–126.
- Webb, Simon (2011). Execution: A History of Capital Punishment in Britain. United Kingdom: The History Press. p. 48. ISBN 9780752466620.
- "Britain’s first double agent: the spy who tricked us all". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 29 December 2012.
- Levine, Joshua (2011). Operation Fortitude:The Story of the Spy Operation that Saved D-Day. HarperCollins. pp. 131–133.
- "Josef Jakobs". Stephen-stratford.com. Retrieved 2015-08-25.
- Ramsey, Winston (1976). "German Spies in Britain". After the Battle. Battle of Britain Prints International Ltd. 11: 24–25.
- Details of Jakobs trial and execution
- More on Jakobs
- Josef Jakobs at Find a Grave
- RAF Upwood – More information on Jakobs