BS Historian Blog and Blank Rounds

Tower of London - East Walk - display commemorating wartime spy executions
Tower of London - East Walk - display
commemorating wartime spy executions
I came across a WordPress blog yesterday entitled the BS Historian - Sceptical Commentary on Pseudohistory and the Paranormal. I'll leave it to everyone's imagination as to what "BS" stands for. The anonymous author of the blog wrote a post on: Conscience Bullets – Firing Squads and the use of blank cartridges.

The blog author mentions Josef's execution and states that "There is no evidence to suggest that a blank cartridge was used in Jakobs’ case."

I don't agree with that statement as I do think there is a fair bit of commentary that indicates that was indeed the case. One of my blog posts looked at the British Procedure for Military Executions by Firing Squad, a document which states that two blank rounds were to be used.

The reasoning behind some rounds being blank was thought to be that it afforded each member of the firing squad a bit of doubt - "did I really fire the lethal round?". This worked well in the days of muskets when the wad that was placed in the muzzle along with the ball of shot also generated recoil. It was hard to tell the difference between a musket loaded with wad and ball and one just loaded with the wad. With modern rifles and bullets, any skilled marksman would notice the difference between the recoil of a live round versus that of a blank round (recoil was less due to absence of a bullet). But apparently, over time, the mind could convince itself that the recoil was softer. Another possible explanation was that should the firing squad ever be brought before a tribunal (e.g. by the enemy), each could plausibly deny that they had fired the lethal round. While the reason behind the modern-day usage of blank rounds might be a mystery, it was clear from the Military Police Manual, that blank rounds were issued.


Jonathan said…
I have only just come across this - many thanks for the link to the 1950 MP manual. This does make it more likely that there was a blank involved with Jakobs, but without the equivalent procedure from 1940, I'm afraid I still can't agree that one was definitely used. However, it's still evidence, so I will certainly amend my article accordingly. Hopefully I will have time to research this in depth in future (perhaps even in my day job with the Royal Armouries, should all the office work stop getting in the way!).

Thank you, and congratulations on your site!

Jonathan Ferguson (BS Historian)
Jonathan said…
Sorry, I checked and Jakobs was executed by the Scots Guards, not the Corps of Military Police/RMP, so it's by no means certain that the RMP procedure of the day (if it did include blanks in 1941) would have been followed. From my colleague at the Tower:

Scots Guards – Occurrence Book AR 37/1 notes – 15 August German spy Corpl Jakob shot at 7.15am – handwritten note attached with stamp of constable’s Office
”Dear Mr Nash
Ref: your enquiry:-
7.15am, Friday 15 August
Nash was the Armouries Foreman.
29 August – received from Q.M.I Quinn the chair upon which Corpl. Jakob (German spy) was shot”

We also have the written notes from RSM Nunc Wilford, and of course the copy prescription.
Giselle Jakobs said…
Thanks for the comments Jonathan and the email chat.

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