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Showing posts from December, 2018

The Hague - Haunts of Spies

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On 8 January 1941, Josef Jakobs was sent from Hamburg to The Hague to complete his espionage training. In some of his initial statements to the MI5 officers in April 1941, Josef stated that he had stayed at the Hotel Central while in The Hague. In later statements, he corrected that information and said that while he had gone to the Hotel Central to listen to jazz music, he had stayed at the Hotel Zeben in Molenstraat. While at the Hotel Central, Josef had seen fellow spy, Karel Richter, who had stayed at the Hotel.

Decades later, the Hotel Central and Hotel Zeben have altered much, and even though one cannot step back in time, one can still get a sense of what Josef and Karel would have experienced.

The Hague - Grand Hotel Central
In 1880, a hotel and the Grand Café du Passage were built in a neo-Renaissance style at Lange Poten 10, in the centre of The Hague. The building would seem to have been rather elaborate (garish perhaps?) based on the photographs.

The cafe had a covered shopp…

German Abwehr Activities in The Hague

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Two years ago, I wrote a blog post about the German Abwehr’s activities in Hamburg. Many of the agents sent to England from the Continent in 1940 and 1941 were run by spymaster Nikolaus Ritter from the Abwehr’s Ast Hamburg (Referat I Luft) offices. Early in my research into Josef Jakobs I discovered that he had also spent time in The Netherlands. In January 1941, Josef was sent to The Hague for additional wireless training and was ultimately sent to England from Schipol Aerodrome near Amsterdam. Karel Richter, too, spent time in The Hague and both he and Josef said that they had encountered at least one other spy destined for England during their time there.

The officers of MI5 were very interested in any information that Josef and Karel divulged about the Abwehr’s activities in The Netherlands. The fact that the two spies could be played off of each other in a game of one-upmanship generated a rich trove of information. Some of the information could be cross-referenced against data g…

Dutchman Harm Knol Bruins - German Spy and Civil Engineer

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During research for a few recent blog posts, I’ve been reviewing Guy Liddell’s diaries, the original documents from The National Archives at Kew. In that process, I’ve come across a few interesting tidbits that warranted further investigation, if only to satisfy my own curiosity.

Liddell’s Diary
One of those tidbits was Liddell’s reference to  H.K. Bruins on 21 August 1940. The diary entry reads:
August 21, 1940: […] A German named H. K. BRUINS who came over here in the guise of a refugee from Belgium and Holland, is a self-confessed German agent. He had been in possession of a wireless set with which he had been communicating weather reports and other information to the Germans. He had also been instructed to give them early intimation of the advance of British troops into Belgium. This I gather he had done. He was working for RANTZOW [sic]. The question now arises whether this is a shooting case. There is no doubt what ever [sic] that BRUINS [sic] was a German agent and very little do…

The Second Italo-Ethiopian War and Robin W.G. Stephens

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In reviewing the military file of Robin W.G. Stephens, I came across several references to Abyssinia and/or Ethiopia. On his application file, Stephens was asked: Have you an intimate knowledge of any parts of the British Empire, and/or Foreign Countries?

 His handwriting is a bit of a cipher but it appears to read:
   Near & Middle East,
   Abyssinia,
   South Arabia,
   Extensive Continental Knowledge.


After the war, Robin's father wrote a letter to the War Office seeking information on the whereabouts of his son. He provided a resume of his son's career and noted that Stephens had:
served as Adjutant to British Red Cross Expedition to Ethiopia during Italo-Abyssinian Warbeen invalided home from Abyssinia to the Masonic Hospital, Ravenscourt This provides us with a bit more information, and a date range (Italo-Abyssinian War), for Stephens' time in Abyssinia/Ethiopia. Stephens' father also quoted a letter:
From: Mr. J. Melly, F.R.G.S. [sic] etc. Principal Medical …

The Muscat Levy Corps and Captain Robin William George Stephens

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I've known for a while that Robin W.G. Stephens, commandant of Camp 020, had spent some years in Muscat during the late 1920s. The more I dug into the Muscat Levy Corps, however, the more perplexed I became. What was a British officer doing commanding a group of soldiers, drawn from what is now Pakistan, in the deserts Oman? Before we get to Stephens, therefore, we need to back up a bit and get some context.

History of Muscat
Muscat lies on the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, part of what is now Oman. Back in the 1500s, Muscat was a convenient way-point for ships traveling between Europe and India and the first Europeans to control the area were the Portuguese. Their superior naval tactics allowed them to gain control of the coastal area from local leaders thereby allowing them to expand their profitable spice trade with India.

By the mid 1600s, the British, in the shape of the British East India Company, were nosing around the area and signed a treaty with some of the de…

Media Review - Nazi Murder Mysteries - Yesterday Channel (2018)

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The Yesterday Channel (UK) is airing a six-part series entitled "Nazi Murder Mysteries".

Part 4 is coming up this Thursday (December 6, 2018 at 8 p.m. in the UK) and focuses on the story of Bella in the Wych Elm. The episode is going to cover the possible links between the woman's skeleton found in a hollow wych elm in Hagley Wood in 1943 and Clara Bauerle, German cabaret singer and mistress of Josef Jakobs (ill-fated German spy executed in 1941).

While I'm naturally most interested in the episode about Bella, during filming last year, the crew mentioned some of the other stories that they were investigating, all of which sounded quite intriguing.

After reaching out to the production team from Like A Shot, I received a private link to view the episodes after they have aired in the UK. (Much easier than downloading Tunnel Bear again and pretending to be a resident of the UK!) For those of you in the UK, you can view the episodes via this link. So far, I've seen t…

MI5's Wireless Radio Advisor - Lt. Col. Adrian Francis Hugh Sibbald Simpson

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Every once in a while, I chase after intriguing stories that pique my interest. One of those stories is that of enigmatic Lt. Col. Adrian Simpson, mentioned in several Coldspur blogs. Simpson served with MI5 in B3 as a wireless expert for a brief time before moving on to serve with MI(R)in the Middle East.

I always like a good research challenge and decided to delve into the genealogy sites and see what I could dig up, if only to satisfy my own curiosity. The problem with a common name like "Simpson" is that the trail can very quickly get muddled. Fortunately, our friend Simpson's full name was rather unique - "Adrian Francis Hugh Sibbald Simpson". In the end, I have uncovered rather more than I expected and this blog post is therefore correspondingly long!

The Knighted Surgeon-General Photographer
We begin the tale with Benjamin Simpson and Agnes Jane Sarah Sibbald who were married in 1859 in Holy Trinity Church in Chelsea, London. Originally from Ireland, Benj…