Book Review - Some were Spies - The Earl Jowitt (1954)

Cover - Some Were Spies (by The Earl Jowitt)
Cover - Some Were Spies
(by The Earl Jowitt)
Another interruption to the blog series on the black market German passport business. I'm needing some serious research time to look into the Finn Algot Niska. Quite a character but much of the information is in Finnish and requires some tedious translation work with Google Translate. Stay tuned for the continuing series in a week or so.

The Book
Some Were Spies. The Earl Jowitt. Hodder and Stoughton Ltd. 1954.

I can't quite recall how this book popped up on my radar as being read-worthy but... here it is!

The author of this book, The Earl Jowitt, was William Allen Jowitt, 1st Earl Jowitt, PC, QC (born 15 April 1885 and died 16 August 1957). Jowitt served as Solicitor General from June 1940 to March 1942. In this capacity he also served as the prosecuting attorney for several spy trials.

The book contains five chapters which deal with espionage cases:
  1. Of the Two Men who Landed at Hythe - Kieboom and Pons
  2. Of the Two Men who Landed at Dungeness - Waldberg and Meier
  3. Of the Two Men and a Woman who Landed in Scotland - Druecke, Walti & Vera Ericksen
  4. The Case of Tyler Kent
  5. The Case of Anna Wolkoff
The rest of the book presents some other cases that Jowitt prosecuted and are not pertinent to this blog. In his introduction, Jowitt states that he got permission from the authorities to write about the spy cases and that he used his case notes as his source material. Given that this book was published in 1954, this is quite astonishing. Generally, MI5 kept a close wrap on all official espionage sources so one wonders if Jowitt's account was somehow "sanitized".

Jowitt states that there were three espionage cases prosecuted during his time as Solicitor General (the first three noted above). He states that there were no other cases brought to trial during that time. This is patently false since Josef Jakobs and Karel Richter were both prosecuted (and executed) before March 1942. It's possible that Jowitt did not know about Josef's case since it was prosecuted by the military, but he should have been familiar with Richter's civil trial.

Jowitt also presents an introductory chapter entitled "Some Thoughts on German Espionage during the War". He admits that the "suspension of our doctrine of Habeus Corpus, and the internment of suspected persons without a trail - or even without an accusation - was a harsh and hard procedure and one which is opposed alike to our traditions and or principles. But in view of our perilous situation, I, for one, do not question its necessity." While Jowitt does reference the Defence Regulations (1939) and the Official Secrets Act (1920), he makes no reference to the Treachery Act (1940) which is intriguing. Given that the spies were prosecuted under the Treachery Act and not the Defence Regulations, this is a gaping omission.

During the espionage trials, Jowitt was left with the impression that the German spy missions had all the marks of hasty and very imperfect improvisation. The Germans used rather crude methods and he was quite surprised to find that many of the spies could not speak English. Other than commenting on the inefficiency of the Germans, however, he doesn't delve into any theories as to why that might be the case.

The five chapters noted above are quite well written and present the background of each of the cases and, to my eye, are fairly accurate. Jowitt, of course, had the advantage of his case notes from the trials. There were a few discrepancies which I will need to check. For example, Jowitt states that when Druecke was captured he had 19 rounds of revolver ammunition in his coat pocket and a Mauser pistol in his suitcase. A revolver is very different from a pistol. Was this just a typo on Jowitt's part or had Druecke been equipped with both a revolver (missing) and a pistol? I need to check this out.

Also disappointing was the fact that Jowitt devoted most of the chapter on Druecke, Walti and Eriksen to the two men and neglected Vera to a great extent. The chapter ends with a brief paragraph noting that there were no proceedings against Vera and that she was "no doubt" detained for the duration of the war. He ventures that she may have been of some use to the authorities.

The chapters on Tyler Kent and Anna Wolkoff provide a nice summary of those two individuals.

A readable book which benefits from the fact that Jowitt, in his role as Solicitor General, had served as prosecutor at the trials of several of the spies. The information provided is therefore relatively accurate if, perhaps, incomplete. There is, for example, no mention of the Treachery Act under which the spies were prosecuted, and no mention of Josef Jakobs and Karel Richter.

Review Score
4 out of 5 - readable and surprisingly accurate for the 1950s


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