Story of Josef Jakobs

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Early Life
Josef Jakobs was born 30 June 1898 in the city of Luxembourg. His German parents moved the family to Berlin in the early 1900s. Josef attended the Dominican College in Vechta and, at the outbreak of the war, joined the German Army. He served with the Fourth Foot Guard Regiment on the eastern and western fronts. He was wounded in 1918 near Amiens and sent to Berlin to recover.

After the war, Josef studied dentistry in Berlin. In 1921, he traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina to complete his dentistry degree. In 1924, Josef returned to Berlin, and after becoming accredited as a dentist in Germany, set up a dental practice. In 1926, he married Margarete Knoeffler and by 1932, they had three children, two boys and a girl.

The economic depression of the early 1930s caused Josef to close his dental practice. In 1934, he traveled to Switzerland with a friend to engage in counterfeit gold-making. His wife came to visit him in the summer of 1934, but by September, Josef and his friend had been arrested and both were imprisoned for almost two and a half years.

In June 1937 Josef was released from prison and returned to Berlin. He found a job as a traveling salesman for a while, selling books and typewriters, but in 1938, after meeting a former acquaintance, got involved in providing black market passports to Jews eager to escape Germany.

Black Market Deals
For a fee, often a hefty one, lawyer Dr. Juergen Ziebell, could secure Finnish, Irish or Uruguayan passports/visa to Jewish clients. Josef's job was to bring possible clients to Dr. Ziebell, for which he received a "finder's fee".

One of Josef's contacts was a Frau Reiwald who recommended Frau Lily Knips to Josef. Frau Knips had a son in England, and was desperate to leave Germany. Frau Knips decided not to a passport through Dr. Ziebell, but Josef tried to arrange various other financial deals with her, often of a very shady nature. In October 1938, Dr. Ziebell and his various business associates, including Josef, were arrested by the authorities. Frau Knips was able to arrange her own way to England, with the help of her son, and left Germany in April 1939. Josef was sent to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp and was released in March 1940.

German Intelligence Service (Abwehr)
Josef may have been called up for military service and/or been approached by a recruiter for the Abwehr. Either way, in September 1940, Josef went to Hamburg to be trained in espionage by a certain Dr. Beier (Julius Jacob Boeckel) under the supervision of spymaster Nikolaus Ritter. While in Hamburg, Josef became enamoured with Clara Bauerle, a singer with the Bernhard Ette Orchestra.

Josef returned to Berlin on the weekends to visit his family. On one of these visits, he apparently divulged to a "friend" that he was planning to use his mission to England as a means to escape to America where he had an aunt. The "friend" denounced Josef to the Gestapo and very quickly, Josef was recalled to Hamburg. The Abwehr still considered Josef  suitable spy material and on 8 January, 1941, he was sent to The Hague to be trained in wireless transmitting and receiving.

To England
On 31 January 1941, left Schipol Airport, near Amsterdam, for England in the belly of a German bomber, most likely a Heinkel 111. Josef left the aircraft at approximately 8:30 pm and injured his ankle during his exit through the narrow hatch. Josef had never practiced a parachute jump or landing and his ankle injury was compounded when he landed. He found himself lying in an English potato field belonging to Dovehouse Farm with a broken ankle. Covering himself with his parachute, Josef smoked his supply of cigarettes throughout the night, drifting in and out of consciousness.

In the morning, around 8:30 am, he fired some shots into the air with his Mauser automatic pistol. A short while later, he fired some more shots into the air and was found by two farm hands on their way to work - Charles Baldock and Harry Coulson. Charles stayed with Josef while Harry went to nearby Wistow Fen Farm and notified Harry Godfrey, a member of the Ramsey Home Guard. Godfrey notified the police in the nearby town of Ramsey and accompanied Coulson back to the parachutist.

A short while later, Captain Newton and Lieutenant Curedale of the Home Guard also arrived, having been notified by the Ramsey Police of the capture of a possible enemy spy. Josef was searched by the men and a variety of items were found in his possession, the most damning of which was the wireless transmitter which was partially buried in the soil beneath Josef. Bundling Josef into the back of a horse-drawn cart, the men accompanied him to the Ramsey Police Station.

At the station, Josef was examined by Acting Inspector Horace Jaikens who summoned Dr. Willem Hertzog to diagnose Josef's ankle injury. Dr. Hertzog determined that the ankle was indeed broken but that Josef was fit to be transported to London. The police made a more complete inventory of Josef possessions, taking particular note of his well-dressed appearance.

Meanwhile, Acting Sergeant Pottle from nearby Bury had been sent to the field at Dovehouse Farm where Josef had landed to recover a small shovel that had been in Josef's possession. While there, Pottle gathered up some scattered paper fragments which later turned out to be part of Josef's code disc which he had torn up during the night.

Back at the police station, Detective Sergeant Thomas Oliver Mills from Huntingdon asked Josef several more questions and summoned RSLO Major Dixon from Cambridge. The property in Josef's possession was carefully itemized and found to contain several other interesting items: £497 in £1 notes, a wireless radio transmitter/receiver, a torch, two identity cards (one in the name of James Rymer), a ration book, several mystery tablets (possibly for use as secret writing materials), a flashlight, a German-English dictionary, a touring map of Great Britain,, 2.5 pounds of chocolate and smoking accessories. Upon the arrival of Dixon, around noon, Josef was loaded into the back of a car and accompanied to London by Mills and Dixon.

Arrival in London
Josef was driven to Cannon Row Police Station and arrived around 4 pm. He offered a voluntary statement to Major Thomas A. Robertson from the War Office, who was accompanied by John Marriott, also of the War Office. After the interview, Josef given some pain killers by the police surgeon and conveyed to the hospital wing of Brixton Prison.

The next day, despite his broken ankle, Josef was taken to Latchmere House, the MI5 interrogation centre for captured spies. Josef was given a brief interrogation by Colonel Robin Stephens but it was quickly recognized that Josef's ankle required serious medical attention. After leaving Latchmere House, Josef was returned to Brixton Prison for the night.

The next morning, he was to the more advanced medical facilities at Dulwich Hospital. There he remained for two months, having developed fever, sepsis at the site of his broken ankle and broncho-pneumonia. Josef was eventually released to Latchmere Houes in reasonable physical condition on April 14 and was quickly convinced to write several personal statements regarding his life.

Over the next three months, Josef gave several statements to the officers at Latchmere House. Colonel Robin Stephens, commandant of Latchmere House and Dr Harold Dearden, psychiatrist at Latchmere House led the interrogation, attempting to glean every bit of information from captured spies. Normally, captured spies were turned into double agents, if they were found to be suitable. Since Josef's capture had been widely publicized, it was determined that he did not meet the criteria to be turned into a double agent.

According to the Treachery Act, neutral aliens and British citizens were to be tried in a civilian court by a judge and jury. Their punishment would be death by hanging, unless they were soldiers, in which case, the Attorney General could decree that they be executed by firing squad. Enemy aliens could be tried by military court martial. Since Josef was a German citizen, and had no neutral alien or British accomplices, MI5 and the Director of Public Prosecutions decided that he would make an excellent candidate for trial by General Court Martial. An application to try Josef by court martial was submitted to the Attorney General in late June and approved. During that same period, Josef was used by the MI5 officers to "break" another German spy who had arrived in mid-May, Karel Richter.

Plans for a speedy court martial were hampered by the logistics of where to hold Josef prior to, and during, his court martial. The Office of the Judge Advocate General was in charge of the proceedings and after much deliberation, it was decided to designate a cell at Wandsworth Prison as a military prison. On 23 July, Josef was transferred to Wandsworth Prison and guarded by several Military Policemen under the authority of the Deputy Provost Marshal, Lt. Colonel C.R.T.M. Gerard. The following day, Josef was formally charged with an offence under the Treachery Act 1940 by Lt. Colonel William E. Hinchley-Cooke. Less than a week later, the Summary of Evidence was taken at Wellington Barracks under the direction of Lt. Col. George Mervyn Cornish, Officer Commanding Holding Battalion Grenadier Guards.

On August 4 and 5, Josef was tried by General Court Martial at the Duke of York's Headquarters in Chelsea. Unlike the other World War 2 spies, Josef was tried by Court Martial because (a) it was clear he was an enemy alien and (b) he was a member of the enemy's armed forces. All of the other World War 2 spies were tried by civil court and hanged, most by Albert Pierrepoint.

Josef's court martial was under the direction of Judge Advocate Carl Ludwig Stirling who provided legal advice for the members of the court, all of whom were high-ranking military officers. The attorney for the prosecution made his case and although Josef was provided with a defence attorney and an interpreter, it was all for nought.. After 10 minutes of deliberation shortly after noon on August 5, the members of the court returned a verdict of guilty and Josef was returned to Wandsworth Prison to await his fate.

The prison chaplain had been attempting to see Josef but because he was a military prisoner, the chaplain was not able to do so. After several letters between Bishop James Dey, Bishop of the Forces, and MI5, a military chaplain was found for Josef, Fr Edward Jackson Griffith. On August 8, Josef wrote a letter of appeal to His Majesty King George VI, but it was rejected.

In the early morning hours of Friday 15 August, 1941, Josef left Wandsworth Prison, taking his leave of the Governor of the Prison, Major Benjamin D. Grew. In the company of his military escort and Fr. Griffith, Josef was driven to the Tower of London. A doctor at the Tower offered him a prescription to calm his nerves and after initially refusing the offer, Josef accepted the medication.

He was led to the miniature firing range located between the inner and outer walls of the Tower, where the World War I spies had been executed - some with courage. A firing squad composed of members of the Scots Guards, Holding Battalion, awaited him. He was seated in a wooden windsor chair and fastened to it with ropes. A circular target was pinned to his chest and a black hood covered his head. The commander of the firing squad, Major PDJ Waters MC gave the signals to the firing squad to take aim. Josef's final words asked the soldiers of the firing squad to "Shoot straight, Tommies". Colonel Robin Stephens, upon hearing how Josef faced his death, commented that Josef had been a brave man.

Some sources have suggested that Josef spent his last night at the Tower of London, but several eye-witness accounts unequivocally state that Josef spent his last night in Wandsworth Prison. In actual fact, the Tower of London was a Royal Palace and fortress, not a prison.

Autopsy & Burial
After the execution, Josef's body was removed to the Tower Bridge mortuary where it was examined by Sir Bernard Spilsbury and the East District coroner, W.R.H. Heddy, who pronounced "death due to the passage of bullets through the heart". On Monday August 18, Josef's body was taken to St. Mary's Roman Catholic Cemetery where Fr. Griffith conducted a funeral service in the chapel along with the Rev. Charles B. Flood. Josef's body was buried in an unmarked grave in the common plot of the cemetery.

The letter that Josef wrote to his family on the eve of his death, which was to have been delivered at the cessation of hostilities, was held in MI5 files until 1993, when it was released to his granddaughters. Josef's letter was not the only one to languish in the files of MI5.


mediashun said…
Great write-up! It’s hard to understand how his handlers thought he’d escape detection. Did he speak fluent English with little or no accent? And his loyalty to the German government was dubious, given his prior history...his execution was unwarranted.
Giselle Jakobs said…
Thanks - sorry for the late response - Blogger hid some of these comments. He definitely didn't speak fluent English but then the Germans were throwing any warm body at England at that point.
Unknown said…
Thank you Giselle for a very interesting and superb history - I live only a few miles from Ramsey and was born in 1941.

Thank You

Tony Mills
Giselle Jakobs said…
Hi Tony,
Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for the comment!

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