27 February 2015

Tower of London - The Summer of 1915 - Plans for a Miniature Rifle Range

Tower of London - Miniature Rifle Range - 1914-1916 (Imperial War Museum - Fair Us IWM Fair Use)
Tower of London - Miniature Rifle Range - 1914-1916
(Imperial War Museum - Fair Use)
Last year, I wrote a post about the Miniature Rifle Range at the Tower of London. The rifle range was used for the firing squad executions of eight World War I spies and one World War II spy (Josef Jakobs).

Two other World War I spies, Haicke Petrus Marinus Janssen and Willem Johannes Roos were not executed in the rifle range, but rather shot in the Tower moat. Their execution took place on 30 July, 1915. Why were these two men not executed in the miniature rifle range? Historical documents are a bit sketchy but simply indicate that the miniature rifle range was "not available".

Tower of London - Miniature Rifle Range - 1914-1916 (Imperial War Museum - Fair Us IWM Fair Use)
Tower of London - Miniature Rifle Range - 1914-1916
(Imperial War Museum - Fair Use)
In October, 2014, I visited the National Archives in Kew and had a look at file WORKS 31/813. The file contained an architectural plan for a proposed miniature rifle range at the Tower of London, dated 19 July 1915.

The mystery of why Janssen and Roos were executed in the Tower moat and not the rifle range is likely explained by this file. During the summer of 1915, a new miniature rifle range was being constructed.

In additional to solving that historical anomaly, the plans for the rifle range also solve another question: at which end of the range were the prisoners seated? Were the prisoners seated at the Constable Tower end of the rifle range (southern end) or at the Martin Tower end (northern end)?
1915 Plan for the Tower of London, Miniature Rifle Range - side view  (National Archives - WORKS 31/813)
1915 Plan for the Tower of London, Miniature Rifle Range
Side view - Constable Tower to the left, Martin Tower to the right.
(National Archives - WORKS 31/813)
In examining the plan for the new miniature rifle range, one can see quite clearly that the doorway was located at the southern end of the building. The firing platform was located just to the right of the doorway and the target area was located at the northern end of the building.
1915 Plan for the Tower of London, Miniature Rifle Range - side view  Close-up of the southern end of the building  (National Archives - WORKS 31/813)
1915 Plan for the Tower of London, Miniature Rifle Range - side view
Close-up of the southern end of the building
(National Archives - WORKS 31/813)
A birds-eye view of the plans clearly shows that the doorway was located near the Constable Tower.
1915 Plan for the Tower of London, Miniature Rifle Range  Birds-eye view of the southern end of the rifle range.  (National Archives - WORKS 31/813)
1915 Plan for the Tower of London, Miniature Rifle Range
Birds-eye view of the southern end of the rifle range.
(National Archives - WORKS 31/813)

Given the date on the 1915 plans, it is quite likely that the executions of Carl Hans Lody (6 Nov 1914) and Carl Frederick Muller (23 June 1915) took place in an earlier version of the rifle range, one that was torn down in the summer of 1915 to make way for the new version.

National Archives, Rifle Range Plan - WORKS 31/813.
Shot in the Tower: The Story of the Spies executed in the Tower of London during the First World War. Leonard Sellers. Leo Cooper. 1997.

23 February 2015

A Follow-up to Clara Bauerle and Bella in the Wych Elm

German singer, Clara Bauerle.  (a postcard photograph found in the possession  of German spy, Josef Jakobs - from the  National Archives)
German singer, Clara Bauerle.
(a postcard photograph found in the possession
of German spy, Josef Jakobs - from the
National Archives)
It's always neat to connect with other bloggers and researchers. A few months ago, I connected with D.J. Cockburn who writes a blog entitled Cockburn's Eclectics. DJ wanted to do a piece on Bella in the Wych Elm and touched base with me as he knew I had done some research on Clara Bauerle.

He crafted a rather fascinating blog entry about the Wych Elm story and came up with a few interesting theories. His blog is well worth a read.

For a while I had entertained the thought that perhaps Bella in the Wych Elm was the infamous Vera Erickson, one of the German spies who landed on the Banffshire coast near Port Gordon in September 1940. Vera was supposedly repatriated to Germany but the British authorities lost track of her quickly. The Bella files indicate that the woman found in the Wych Elm was 5 feet tall. Vera, it turns out was 5'5" tall... and Clara Bauerle was even taller. But check out DJ's blog for a few other theories.

18 February 2015

Josef Jakobs - A Photograph of a German Spy

Josef Jakobs (Copyright G.K. Jakobs)
Josef Jakobs (Copyright G.K. Jakobs)
In 2010 or 2011, I posted a photograph of Josef to his virtual memorial on the Find-a-Grave website. I used a slightly warped photograph with a low resolution.

Since I posted that photograph, it has migrated around the web, used freely (and without acknowledgement) by various bloggers.

It seems odd to search for Josef on Google and come across websites with this particular photograph.While the internet is a bit of a wild west, it is still nice when people acknowledge the source, even if it is Find-a-Grave.

13 February 2015

Book Review - Cruel Britannia: A Secret History of Torture (2012)

Book Cover - Cruel Britannia: A Secret History of Torture - Ian Cobain (2012)
The Book
Cruel Britannia: A Secret History of Torture. Ian Cobain. Portobello Books, London. 2012.

Since the tragedy of 9/11, there has been much in the news about the war on terror, and the questionable interrogation methods used by the United States of America. While many point fingers at the United States, Great Britain has also participated in interrogations during which prisoners were tortured.

What is less well known, is that many of the physical and psychological torture techniques used by the British were developed at two British interrogation centres during World War II: the London Cage and Camp 020. The London Cage seems to have leaned more towards physical torture, whereas Camp 020 used psychological torture.

During World War II, Lt. Col. Alexander Scotland commanded the London Cage, an interrogation centre for German prisoners of war. Thousands of prisoners passed through the doors of the Cage, located in Kensington Gardens, behind the doors of three Victorian mansions. Most were deprived of sleep and forced to assume stress positions for days at a time. Some were beaten. Some died and were secretly buried.

Camp 020 had a slightly different history. It opened in July 1940 under the command of Lt. Col. Robert Stephens. Stephens apparently eschewed physical violence, claiming it produced low-grade information. The first inmates at the camp were members of the British Union of Fascists (BUF). They claimed that they were subjected to:
  • solitary confinement for weeks,
  • meagre rations,
  • woken up frequently at night,
  • only two 30 minute periods of exercise,
  • pulled from beds in middle of night and brought in for interrogation,
  • some held in cells lit 24 hours a day or kept in complete darkness,
  • moved from one location to another without notice,
  • all were threatened with being shot or hanged (Cobain, 10)
One member of the BUF said that his memory was badly damaged by this treatment. "Certain periods of my life completely disappeared from my mind. Others who shared my experiences at Ham Common [Camp 020] have since remarked on similar symptoms in themselves. The resident doctor...stated to me plainly that the treatment was intended to produce a state of "mental atrophy and extreme loquacity". (Cobain, 11)

The doctor in question was Dr. Harold Dearden, a medical doctor and psychologist. He dreamed up regimes of starvation and sensory & sleep deprivation that were designed to break the will of even the most stubborn Camp 020 detainee.

Many of the techniques used by Scotland at the London Cage were contraventions of the Geneva Conventions (forcing prisoners to stand at attention for more than 24 hours at a time, forcing them to kneel while they were beaten about the head). (Cobain 32) While Camp 020 apparently stayed away from such physical tortures, it too contravened the Geneva Convention by threatening to have men shot for failing to disclose information. Eventually all British subjects at Camp 020 were moved elsewhere and the camp was devoted to the interrogation of foreign espionage suspects.

Stephens claimed physical violence was never used at Camp 020 because it produced information of dubious quality. Some scholars question that assertion and point to the track record Stephens developed at his next posting.

When the war ended, Stephens was appointed Commandant of Bad Nenndorf, a British interrogation centre in Germany. As the months progressed, there was no doubt that prisoners at Bad Nenndorf were starved, beaten and deprived of heat and clothing. They were told that their wives and children would be murdered. Such threats were apparently considered quite "proper" by the British officers in charge of the camp.

Sick inmates were dropped off at the local hospital where they were found to be: filthy, confused, emaciated, terrified and suffering from frostbite and multiple injuries.

An investigation was eventually conducted against Stephens and some of his fellow officers who were brought before a court martial. Stephens claimed he had no idea what was going on at Bad Nenndorf as he was busy writing the history of Camp 020. In private, his lawyer threatened to spill the beans and say that if cruelties did take place, they were of the sort used at Camp 020 and authorized by the government and the head of MI5. In the end, Stephens was a acquitted.

Between 1950 and 1970, British authorities experimented with various techniques for extracting information from stubborn subjects. Drugs and hypnosis were generally not successful. Scientists began to dabble in sensory deprivation and discovered a most useful tool. Most people became disorientated in less than 24 hours. The idea that isolation and sensory deprivation could be used to break down an individual's resistance to interrogation would have come as no surprise to Dr. Harold Dearden at Camp 020. By the early 1970s, British authorities had come up with a torture regime that included:
  • isolation
  • sensory deprivation
  • seemingly self-inflicted pain (stress positions - e.g. standing at attention for hours)
  • exhaustion
  • humiliation (Cobain, 129)
The British tweaked their technique during the Irish troubles. But by the 21st century, little had changed in the British interrogation toolkit:
  • shouting and deception (used at Camp 020)
  • sleep deprivation (used at Camp 020)
  • stripped naked (possibly used at Camp 020)
  • hooding, light and auditory deprivation (used at Camp 020)
  • use of stress positions (possibly used at Camp 020)
  • isolation up to 30 days (used at Camp 020)
  • mild, non-injurious physical contact
  • death threats (used at Camp 020)
  • exposure to extreme cold
  • water boarding
The modern British interrogator makes a distinction between "torture" (severe pain as accompanying a serious physical injury) and "inhuman and degrading treatment (not torture). In their view, the simple infliction of pain and suffering, whether it is physical or mental, is not torture (Cobain, 231).

Cobain admitted that he didn't want to see what his government was doing. He admitted that when things look desperate, England resorts to torture (Cobain, 308).

A most fascinating book, well-researched and timely. Everyone who doubts that the "upstanding" British could stoop so low, should read this book. It was disturbing to learn of the fragility of the human psyche.

Review Score
5 out of 5 -most helpful in researching the techniques that would have been used at Camp 020

09 February 2015

Book Review - Execution: A History of Capital Punishment in Britain - Simon Webb (2012)

Cover of Execution: A History of Capital Punishment in Britain by Simon Webb.
Book Cover - Execution: A History of
Capital Punishment in Britain.
(From Amazon.com)
The Book
Execution: A History of Capital Punishment in Britain. Simon Webb. The History Press. Stroud, Gloucestershire. 2012.

[Disclaimer - I did not read the entire book, only the sections on Josef Jakobs and Karel Richter]

The author of this book takes a look at the various methods of execution used throughout Britain's history. In the course of a chapter entitled Shot at Dawn, Webb tells the story of German spy Josef Jakobs. Given the multitude of small errors that have crept into Josef's story over time, I am constantly on the lookout for the propagation of those errors.

In the very first paragraph, the author claims that Josef was the last person executed by a British firing squad on British soil. I always knew that Josef was the last person executed at the Tower of London, but this statement was a new one. A bit of research revealed that the author is correct.

There were two executions by firing squad at Shepton Mallet Prison in 1944 - both were conducted by American troops against American soldiers who had killed fellow soldiers. In 1946, Theodore William Schurch, a British-Swiss soldier was charged with offences under the Treachery Act. He was found guilty by court martial and hanged at Pentonville Prison. Why Schurch was hanged and not shot is a mystery at this point.

Back to the book. The author says that Josef was a Sergeant in the German Army which is a stretch. He was perhaps a Corporal. Most of the information about Josef's capture is correct. The author notes that "there is a mysterious gap of five months between Jakobs' capture and his interview by the police at Scotland Yard". Clearly the author has not delved into the depths of Josef's declassified MI5 files. On the other hand, the author does quote Josef's petition to the King, but this information is available on Stephen Stratford's website.

The account of Josef's execution has a few of the usual errors - Josef was seated in a chair because he was unable to stand (not true). Interestingly, the book claims that the execution took place "at the end of the alleyway which held the rifle range", not the rifle range itself.

The book also touches on Karel Richter's arrival and execution. There are a few errors - Richter did not arrive on 31 May but on 12 May. His career in espionage lasted several days, not 30 minutes. Most of the section on Richter deals with his execution, during which he fought wildly for his life.

It would appear the author has relied on second-hand sources for the information on Josef and Richter. As a result, there are several errors in both accounts.

Review Score
3 out of 5 - The author writes well and made the stories interesting. I did learn something new - Josef was the last person executed by British firing squad on British soil.

04 February 2015

Ramsey Company Home Guard - Two Officers of Mystery

The first people to find Josef Jakobs on the morning of 1 February, 1941, were two farmers: Charles Baldock and Harry Coulson. Their discovery was passed along to an ever expanding circle of people.

Ramsey Mereside Home Guard - 1941 (From Ramsey & District website)
Ramsey Mereside Home Guard - 1941
(From Ramsey & District website)
One of the farmers went to a nearby farm and notified Henry James Godfrey, a Home Guard Volunteer. Godfrey, in turn, telephoned the Ramsey Police Station and reported the discovery to Inspector Horace Jaikens.

Jaikens telephoned Captain William Henry Newton of the Ramsey Home Guard, who contacted his subordinate Platoon Commander Lieutenant John Curedale.

Much was written about Harry Godfrey in various newspaper reports after Josef's execution. Harry was the "hero" of the hour - the Home Guard Volunteer who had captured a spy.

Ramsey Home Guard on parade - 1939-1943 (From Ramsey & District website)
Ramsey Home Guard on parade - 1939-1943
(From Ramsey & District website)
Very little was written about Captain Newton or Lieutenant Curedale. Despite fairly intensive research on genealogy sites, I have discovered little about Captain Newton and virtually nothing about Lieutenant Curedale.

Lt. John Curedale was a Platoon Commander of the Ramsey Company Home Guard in February 1941. He lived at 13 Station Road in the village of Ramsey and was a fertilizer's manufacturer's representative.

William Henry Newton  (From Ramsey & District website)
William Henry Newton
(From Ramsey & District website)
Curedale was not called as a witness at Josef's trial. By June 1941, it appears that Curedale was serving with the 55th Training Regiment, Royal Armoured Corps, 68 Troop, C Squadron, Elles Barracks, Farnborough, Hampshire.

Captain William Henry Newton was the Officer Commanding the Ramsey Company Home Guard. While he was a Captain early 1941, there was evidence that he rose to the rank of Major and eventually Acting Lt. Colonel.

Ramsey & District website
Forces War Records - Home Guard Records

03 February 2015

Today in 1941 - February 3 - German spy Josef Jakobs was transferred to Dulwich Community Hospital

Today in 1941, German spy Josef Jakobs was finally admitted to Dulwich Community Hospital in East Dulwich. His broken ankle, injured during the parachute jump on the evening of January 31, was in desperate need of medical attention. Three physicians had examined Josef at various points on February 1 and 2 - all agreed that his ankle needed to be treated if his leg was to be saved.

Today in 1941 - February 3 - German spy Josef Jakobs was transferred to Dulwich Community HospitalFinally, at 4:00 p.m. Josef was transported from Brixton Prison Infirmary to Dulwich Community Hospital. Upon arrival at the hospital, Josef was immediately assessed by the physicians. Leg and chest x-rays were quickly ordered and the radiologist concluded that Josef had a “comminuted fracture of lower end of shaft of tibia & fibula and overlapping of tibia fragments and forward displacement of upper [?unclear?] fragments.” In other words, the lower leg bones were shattered.

With the x-ray images in front of them, the doctors ordered that Josef be prepped for immediate surgery. Josef was placed under general anaesthetic as the doctors realigned his fractured leg bones and applied a cast of plaster of paris.

As far as most of the staff were concerned, Josef was a German airman who had bailed out of his aircraft. Only Dr. O.W. Roberts, chief physician at Dulwich, knew the real story behind Josef.

For the next seven weeks, Josef would remain sequestered within Dulwich Hospital, much to the frustration of Lt. Colonel Stephens and the other MI5 officers. Josef would develop a raging fever, sepsis at the site of the fracture and eventually pneumonia. Dr. Roberts was firm in his belief that if Josef's life was to be saved, he needed to be under expert medical care. Dr. Dearden from Latchmere House concurred, and Stephens was left to fume and grumble in various internal MI5 memos.

02 February 2015

Today in 1941 - February 2 - German spy Josef Jakobs was briefly interrogated at Latchmere House by MI5

Today in 1941, German spy Josef Jakobs woke up in a hospital bed in the Infirmary at Brixton Prison. The Medical Officer at the prison took a look at Josef's ankle and knew that Josef needed more advanced medical treatment than could be offered at the prison. Plans were made to transfer Josef to a local hospital, but before that took place, Lt. Colonel Robert W.G. Stephens at Latchmere House, MI5's secret interrogation centre, wanted a few minutes with Josef.

Today in 1941 - February 2 - German spy Josef Jakobs was briefly interrogated at Latchmere House by MI5Josef's ankle was stabilized and after lunch he was bundled into that back of a vehicle and driven from Brixton Prison to Latchmere House in Ham Common. Because of his broken ankle, many of the reception formalities were dispensed with. Dr. Harold Dearden did take fill out a personal particulars form for Josef - height, weight, age, birth date, family, etc. Several photographs of Josef were taken. They were not ideal, due to his disheveled appearance, but had to do in that moment.

Following the rather gentle reception given to Josef by Dr. Dearden, his stretcher was taken into another room where he was confronted by Lt. Col. Stephens, Dr. Dearden and two other intelligence officers, Lieutenant G. F. Sampson and Lieutenant A.D. Meurig Evans. For two hours (4:45 pm to 6:45 pm), the officers worked on Josef and extracted the general gist of his story. Josef's poor English skills would have mattered little for both Stephens and Sampson were fluent in German.

In the face of their threats against his family, Josef agreed to work for them as a double agent. In his summary report of the interrogation, Stephens noted that Josef could be a very useful double agent. The fact that he was the highest paid agent to arrive in England suggested that he was highly valued by the German Intelligence Service.

While Stephens dictated his report to one of the Latchmere House secretaries, Josef was transported back to Brixton Prison. Arrangements were not yet quite in place for his transfer to a local hospital. He had one more night to endure before his broken ankle would be comprehensively treated.

01 February 2015

Today in 1941 - February 1 - German parachutist Josef Jakobs was discovered in a field near Ramsey, Huntingdonshire

On this day in 1941, German spy Josef Jakobs was found in a potato field on Dovehouse Farm, near the village of Ramsey, Huntingdonshire. At about 8:30 a.m. Josef had fired several shots into the air from his Mauser pistol. The shots were heard by Charles Baldock and Harry Coulson, two farm labourers who were passing by on their way to work.

Today in 1941 - February 1 - German parachutist Josef Jakobs was discovered in a field near Ramsey, HuntingdonshireAfter approaching Josef and realizing that he had a broken ankle and was unable to move, Coulson went to nearby Wistow Fen Farm and summoned Ramsey Company Home Guard Volunteer, James Henry Godfrey. Before accompanying Coulson back to the potato field, Godfrey telephoned the Ramsey Police Station to apprise them of events.

About half an hour later, Captain William Henry Newton and Lieutenant John Curedale of the Ramsey Company Home Guard arrived to take charge of the situation. Josef was searched and the articles in his possession were confiscated. A horse-drawn cart was procured and Josef was taken to the police station in Ramsey.

Inspector Horace Jaikens (from Ramsey) and Detective Sergeant Thomas Oliver Mills (from Huntingdon) greeted Josef upon his arrival at the police station. Dr. Willem Hertzog, a local Ramsey physician, was summoned and concluded that Josef had a broken ankle but was fit for transport to London via automobile. Jaikens and Mills extracted a bit of information from Josef, but were hampered by Josef's poor English. The two officers conducted another search of his person, turning up a few more articles. The most damning of his possessions was a wireless transmitter/receiver contained in a faux-crocodile attache case.

Around noon, MI5's Regional Security Liasison Officer R. Dixon arrived from Cambridge. After some discussion, it was decided that Mills and Dixon would accompany Josef to Cannon Row Police Station in London.

Upon arrival in London, Josef gave a voluntary statement to Major Thomas Argyll Robertson of MI5. After his statement, he received an injection of pain-killers from the police doctor and was transferred to Brixton Prison Infirmary for the night.