Josef Jakobs - Agent of the Abwehr or the Gestapo?

In March 2013, Alison Vale wrote an article for The Independent, which connected German cabaret singer Clara Bauerle with Bella in the Wych Elm. The article noted that Josef Jakobs was a "Czech-born Gestapo agent". Since then, numerous web articles, blogs and news articles have propagated that information. Unfortunately, that statement is not accurate.

Czech or German?
Josef Jakobs was born in Luxembourg of German parents. He was of German nationality and there is absolutely nothing within his files that would indicate any Czech-origins or familial connections. All of the information on Josef within the declassified MI5 files points to his German nationality.

National Archives - KV 2/24 - 9a - extract from the Personal Particulars of Josef Jakobs
National Archives - KV 2/24 - 9a - extract from the Personal Particulars of Josef Jakobs

The author of the Independent article may have confused Josef Jakobs with Karel Richard Richter, another Abwehr agent who landed via parachute in May 1941 near London Colney. Richter was born in the Sudetenland, a German-speaking area of Czechoslovakia. After the Sudentenland was "appropriated" by the Germans, his nationality became German. The declassified MI5 files on Richter make this very clear.

National Archives - KV 2/30 - 29a - extract from Personal particulars of Karel Richard Richter
National Archives - KV 2/30 - 29a - extract from Personal particulars of Karel Richard Richter

Abwehr or Gestapo?
The policies of the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nazi Party) were quite hideous. There is no question about that. But, it is sloppy logic to state that every German was a Nazi - i.e. a member of the Nazi political party. It is even sloppier to suggest that the Gestapo were behind the espionage missions of the spies who landed in England in 1940 and 1941.

Alison Vale claimed that Josef Jakobs was a "Gestapo-agent". This is inaccurate. The simple answer is that Josef Jakobs, Karel Richter and all of the Operation LENA spies who landed on the green shores of England were agents of the Abwehr, the military intelligence arm of the German Army. To claim that Josef Jakobs was a "Gestapo agent" is to fail to understand the difference between the Secret State Police and the Army. Let's dive into the complexities...

British Military Intelligence
Let's start with the United Kingdom in World War 2. Most everyone has heard of MI5, if only because of the TV show. MI5 was/is a branch of Military Intelligence that deals with counter-espionage. It is also known as the British Security Service or the British SS - and despite using SS as an abbreviation, there is no connection between the British SS and the infamous paramilitary SS (Schutzstaffel or Protection Squadron) of the Nazi Party. This may seem obvious but... sometimes the obvious is not so obvious. More on that later. During World War 2, MI5 dealt with spies against Britain, hence its involvement with the Abwehr agents who landed in England. MI5 also ran the Double-Cross system in partnership with other British intelligence agencies. Yep... there was many more... Naval Intelligence... Air Intelligence... Special Operations Executive (SOE)... MI19... and many more. Let's not complicated matters. Only one is important for our current discussion, MI6.

MI6 was/is the British Secret Intelligence Service, also known as SIS. MI6 essentially conducted/conducts espionage activities against other countries (mostly enemy countries but sometimes neutral or friendly ones).

The British Union of Fascists and an Alternate History

British Union Fascists - Sir Oswald Mosley (pulled from Pinterest - no other web reference found)
British Union Fascists - Sir Oswald Mosley
(pulled from Pinterest - no other web reference found)
Now, let's imagine that during WW2, in England, one of the political parties (let's say... the British Union of Fascists (BUF)) had created a paramilitary organization to provide "security" at political rallies. This paramilitary organization created its own intelligence gathering arm, its own policing arm, its own security arm... all designed to protect the BUF Party and identify enemies of the Party. Now let's imagine that this political party actually became the ruling party. Scary thought? Yep. Now imagine that, over time, the intelligence, police and security arms of the BUF Party began to come into conflict with the existing intelligence, police and security departments of England. Maybe the BUF would have absorbed the Special Branch of the Metropolitan Police into their own policing arm. Maybe they would have created a Secret State Police to keep watch over their political adversaries. And maybe... eventually... they would have come into conflict with MI5 and MI6. Because not everu English citizen or employee of the government was a member of the BUF Party. In fact, some citizens actually disagreed with the racist and fascist direction of the BUF. But it was dangerous to stand up to the BUF... people just disappeared from one day to the next.

Could never happen? It happened in Germany. And one can see flickers of it in some First World countries today. And the BUF Party really did exist in England and freaked out the authorities so much that many of the them were locked up. Civil liberties tend to wear a little thin when national survival is at stake.

So, back to Germany... the Nazi Party was a political party with its own paramilitary arm that had many security and intelligence departments operating in parallel to existing structures. Let's begin with the German Military.

German Military Intelligence
Admiral Wilhelm Canaris (from Wikipedia)
Admiral Wilhelm Canaris
(from Wikipedia)
After the Treaty of Versailles, the Germans were allowed a limited army and intelligence service, purely for "defence" purposes. So within Armed Forces High Command, we see a department called the Abwehr (to ward off). It had a fancy name, but the Abwehr was originally designed to "ward off" the espionage activities of other countries. So, essentially for counter-espionage purposes. Once the Nazis came to power in 1933, its focus changed and expanded to include espionage and sabotage.

From 1934 onward, the Abwehr was under the command of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris. He had been a naval officer during World War I and had a deep appreciation for the threat posed by Communism. Thus, when he took control of the Abwehr, he was favourably disposed to the Nazi Party to offset the threat of Communism. He very quickly began to see that the Nazi Party and its brutal methods ran counter to the honour of a Prussian officer and the code of military conduct. In 1944, he was removed as chief of the Abwehr and placed under house arrest. The Nazis suspected that he had been involved in the assassination attempt against Hitler. Canaris was hanged by the Nazis shortly before the end of the war.

Several authors have written recent histories of the Abwehr and Canaris which suggest that anti-Nazi sentiment ran high behind the doors of the Abwehr. The parallel intelligence gathering arm of the Nazi Party - the RSHA under Nazi SS officer Richard Heydrich (later Nazi SS officer Ernst Kaltenbrunner) - considered much of the Abwehr intelligence to be of limited value. In early 1944, the Abwehr was absorbed into the RSHA.

So, what of Josef Jakobs? He was recruited as an espionage agent by an Abwehr officer from the Hamburg Abwehr office. His training and mission were directed by the Hamburg Abwehr office. Technically, he was a member of the German military. The Abwehr I section was essentially the equivalent of Britain's MI6 - the British Secret Intelligence Service. And the Abwehr III section was essentially the equivalent of Britain's MI5 - the British Security Service.

OKW - Oberkommando der Wehrmachts (Armed Forces High Command) - General Wilhelm Keitel
     Abwehr - Amtsgruppe Ausland - Foreign Intelligence Branch - Admiral Wilhelm Canaris
          Abwehr I - espionage (foreign intelligence collection) - Colonel Hans Piepenbrock
               Gruppe I L (Luft) - espionage against foreign air forces
                    Ast X - Abwehr office in Hamburg within Wehrkreis X (military district X (10))
          Abwehr II - sabotage
          Abwehr III - counter-espionage

Paramilitary Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS)
So, what the heck is the Gestapo? The word is an abbreviation of Geheime Staatspolizei - Secret State Police. The Gestapo fell under the umbrella of the paramilitary Nazi Schutzstaffel... the infamous Nazi SS. Most members of the Gestapo were police officers or investigators and not necessarily members of the Nazi Party. However, over time, officers within the Gestapo were shaped by the cultural and political milieu. Generally, the Gestapo were involved in tracking down and breaking up resistance to the Nazi regime - trade unions, political parties, religious groups, student groups, etc - both within the borders of Germany and within the occupied territories.

SS - Schutzstaffel (Protection Squadron) - Heinrich Himmler - Reichsführer-SS
   RSHA - Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Main Security Office) - Reinhard Heydrich (until 1942)
      SD - Sicherheitsdienst des Reichsführers-SS - Intelligence Agency of the SS & Nazi Party
           Inland-SD - interior intelligence agency of the SS
           Ausland-SD - civilian foreign intelligence agency of the SS
      SiPo - Sicherheitspolizei - Security Police
           Gestapo - Geheime Staatspolizei - Secret State Police
           Kripo - Kriminal Polizei - Criminal Police

So, back to Josef Jakobs and Alison Vale's statement that he was a "Gestapo agent". I am not sure where she came across information in the declassified MI5 files that would indicate Josef was a member of any police force or that he was a member of the Gestapo. I have studied these files for 15 years and have to come across such a reference.

On the other hand, Josef's MI5 files are full of his account of how he was arrested in October 1938 by the Gestapo for his involvement in black market passport activities.

I also know that the MI5 case officers sometimes referred to the German spies who arrived on the shores of England as belonging to the German Secret Intelligence Service, German Intelligence Service or simply the German Secret Service. In some cases, the MI5 reports abbreviate these phrases to GIS (German Intelligence Service) or the German SS (Secret Service). It is easy to see how a cursory glance at such a document could lead some to believe that "German SS" was identical with the infamous "Nazi SS". Even then, as noted above, the Nazi SS is not synonymous with the Gestapo.

I have recently come across articles, blogs, podcasts and films that propagate and expand on the "Gestapo" and "Nazi" inaccuracies. Let's be clear, Clara Bauerle was not well-known to "high-ranking Nazi officers". She MAY have been known to low-level officers at the Abwehr's office in Hamburg. The terms "German", "Nazi", "Gestapo" and "Abwehr" cannot be used interchangeably. That would be kind of like using "American", "Republican", "FBI" and "CIA" interchangeably.

The history of the Abwehr and the intricacies of the Nazi SS hierarchy are far more complex than presented here. I have necessarily focused on a narrow slice in time as it relates to Josef Jakobs and the Abwehr spies sent over as part of Operation LENA in 1940 and 1941. There are numerous books that document the history of either organization in far more detail than can be touched upon within this blog post. I hope that I haven't summarized to the point of error. Please let me know if I have!

Feldgrau - great series of posts on the organization of the Abwehr
Wikipedia - Oberkommando der Wehrmachts - gives an overview of the 4 OKW departments, of which the Abwehr was one
Wikipedia - Schutzstaffel - overview of the Nazi paramilitary organization which later absorbed many policing and security functions within Germany
Fighting to Lose: How the German Secret Intelligence Service Helped the Allies win the Second World War - John Bryden - 2014. 


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