Showing posts from 2014

Book Review - Unternehmen Seelöwe [Operation Sealion] - Monika Siedentopf (2014)

The Book
Unternehmen Seelöwe: Widerstand im deutschen Geheimdienst [Operation Sealion: Resistance in the German Intelligence Service]. Monika Siedentopf. Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, München, 2014.

In the last year I have read several English-language books which have suggested that during World War 2, the German Intelligence Service (Abwehr), far from being stupid and incompetent, actively undermined the Nazi regime. Most of these books have focused on the role of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, the head of the Abwehr, and his colleagues. A few months ago, I came across reviews for a new book which focused on the Abwehr's role in sabotaging Operation Sealion, Hitler's planned invasion of England in 1940/1941.

This book, by German historian Monika Siedentopf, stretched my German language skills to the limit but was quite readable once I added some espionage and military terms to my German vocabulary. Siedentopf lays out the events leading up to Operation Sealion and gives a bri…

The Rocky Road to Josef Jakob's Court Martial: the Director of Public Prosecutions

For a variety of reasons, MI5 decided that Josef Jakobs was the ideal candidate to be tried by a military court martial. Primary among those reasons was the fact that Josef was an "enemy alien", i.e. a citizen of a country with whom Britain was at war, in this case, Germany. Other "enemy aliens" had been captured (e.g. Karl Theodore Drücke) but since their accomplices were neutral citizens, they were tried as a group in a civilian court.

Josef had no accomplices. He admitted that he was a German citizen. He admitted that both of his parents were German citizens. But the icing on the cake, so to speak, at least from the MI5 perspective, was that Josef also claimed to be a member of the German Armed Forces. A spy who admitted he was an enemy alien in the armed forces - perfect candidate for a court martial.

The path to Josef's court martial, however, was not an easy one. Many people would be involved in the decision and several levels of bureaucracy would need to…

Kenneth C. Howard's Little Black Book

N.B. See my February 12, 2017 blog for a break in the case.
In addition to the 1936 diary, the Birmingham Police sent a small black notebook to MI5. The envelope noted "One diary and one notebook containing suspicious entries. See B'ham City Police report dated 5th June 1941".

The cover note that accompanied the notebook through the corridors of  MI5 read the same.

The little notebook was about the same size as the diary and quite worn. Within its pages, there was evidence of adult handwriting and of child handwriting. The inside cover displayed examples of both types of handwriting. A couple of stickers from British regiments were stuck to one side of the inside cover - the 17th Lancers and the 40th Pathans (India). The other side stated: "On behalf of the Federation Bureau of Investigation", clearly a child's mishearing of the American "Federal Bureau of Investigation". The child named Kenneth C. Howard imagined that he was a member of the FBI …

The Mysterious Diary of Kenneth C. Howard

N.B. See my February 12, 2017 blog for a break in the case. 
If you were to visit the National Archives at Kew in London, and order file KV 2/27, you would receive a box containing some of the spy paraphernalia of German spy Josef Jakobs. Two small notebooks within that box would perplex you, as they have perplexed me for several years. You see, the notebooks were never included in MI5's exhaustive lists of Josef's possessions. The name of Kenneth C. Howard, repeated several times in the pages of the notebooks was a mystery.

To date I have written two blog posts about the notebooks, musing on the identity of their owner, Kenneth C. Howard, and how he and his notebooks could be connected with German espionage. Alas, on previous visits to the National Archives, I had neglected to photograph every page in the the notebooks, so my speculations and theories were based on limited information. A recent trip to London has solved that dilemma.

The Envelope
The first clue in the solutio…

Book Review - Banged Up: Doing Time in Britain's Toughest Jails by David Leslie (2014)

The Book
Banged Up: Doing Time in Britain's Toughest Jails. David Leslie. Black & White Publishing, 2014.

According to the publisher's website, David Leslie "was a senior journalist with the News of the World for over forty years, latterly as Scottish Crime Editor. He is the author of several books including Crimelord, the story of underworld supremo Tam ‘The Licensee’ McGraw, and The Happy Dust Gang, telling how businessmen plotted the start of major cocaine smuggling. He has appeared in television documentaries giving unique insights into notorious crimes and criminals and is a regular contributor to radio stations and newspapers, drawing on his extensive and unchallenged knowledge of the Scottish underworld."

The author is clearly well-versed in Britain's crime scene. It is interesting to note his long association with the notorious News of the World newspaper.

Banged Up: Doing Time in Britain's Toughest Jails tells the history of six of Britain…

BBC Documentary - The Spies that Fooled Hitler (1999)

BBC Documentary - The Spies that Fooled Hitler (1999)

Original Air Date - 2 October 1999
Series - Timewatch

Duration - 45:52 minutes

Producer - Tilman Remme
BBC/History Channel Co-Production

Part 1 clip available here - 10 minutes
Part 2 clip available here - 10 minutes
Part 3 clip available here - 10 minutes
Part 4 clip available here - 10 minutes
Part 5 clip available here - 5:52 minutes

I came across this show by accident on YouTube. Produced in 1999 by BBC and the History Channel, the show gives a fairly good summary of the Double-Cross system. While many of the classified MI5 documents were released after 2000, the show makes up for that by interviewing men and women who served with MI5 during World War 2. Such living testimony is quite rare today and more than makes up for the lack of archival documents. One of the women who was involved in the interrogation of Karel Richter (probably as a transcriptionist) noted that it was all rather like a game, until the morning of an ex…

PBS Documentary - Secrets of the Tower of London (2013)

PBS Documentary - Secrets of the Tower of London (2013)

Aired - 27 October 2013
Series - Secrets of Britain

Duration - 55:11 minutes

Producer - Vicky Matthews
Produced by - Pioneer Productions
Clip available here
Or here on PBS website

Trying to cram 1000 years of history into a 55 minute show is a bit of a challenge, but this show gives a good overview of the history of the Tower of London. Naturally, certain aspects of Tower history are glossed over, and some are simply omitted. There is no mention of the role that the Tower played during World War I and the execution of German spies. On the other hand, the show does devote two minutes to covering the story of Josef Jakobs, the last person executed in the Tower (31:00 to 33:12 on the YouTube video). Necessarily brief, the segment is fairly accurate. The show also touches on the history of Tower Bridge (26:00 to 31:00) and provides a rather fascinating look into the Victorian mechanism that opens and closes the bridge.


Historic Royal Palaces - Podcast - Curious Connections: Spies and Us

Historic Royal Palaces - Podcast - Curious Connections: Spies & Us

Taped - 14 October 2014
Original Air Date -30 October 2014
Series - Curious Connections

Duration - 59:12 minutes

Producer - Historic Royal Palaces
Clip available here

Sally Dixon-Smith - Tower Collections Curator, Historic Royal Palaces
Richard J. Aldrich - Professor of International Security
Charlie Beckett - Director of London School of Economics Journalism Think Tank

"From the 11 spies executed at the Tower of London in 1914, to spying in today's digital age, espionage has long been an intriguing practice.
Hear Tower Collections Curator Sally Dixon-Smith and professor of international security Richard J Aldrich discuss spying techniques, digital intelligence and our own personal data during this talk recorded at the Tower of London.
This podcast is part of our Curious Connections series, which looks at contemporary issues through stories from our palaces’ past."
I have to say I r…

Historic Royal Palaces - Podcast on Josef Jakobs

Historic Royal Palaces - Tower Prisoner Stories - Jacobs
Original Air Date - 13 February 2013
Series - Stories from the Palaces

Duration - 4:19 minutes

Producer -unknown
Clip available here

This programme was produced by the Tower of London Education Series in conjunction with the Royal Armouries.

It tells the story of German spy Josef Jakobs in miniature. In condensing the story of Jakobs into the span of less than four minutes, various inaccuracies and simplifications have crept in.

According to the program, Jakobs told the farmers who found him that his name was James Rymer. In fact, Jakobs did not give his name to the farmers and only revealed his real name, Josef Jakobs, to police officers at Ramsey Police Station. His false identity card gave the name of James Rymer, but Jakobs never claimed that name.

The programme skips directly from Josef's discovery in the farmer's field to his court martial at the Duke of York Headquarters in Chelsea. The programme thereby i…

Money Money Money - Part 2

In an earlier posting, I examined the topic of the British currency that Josef had brought with him from Germany. While acknowledging that the Germans had introduced counterfeit English banknotes into circulation, I suggested that it was doubtful that the £1 notes found on Josef were counterfeit. Since then, I have confirmed that the notes that Josef brought to England were indeed genuine.

Captured Currency
When German agents were captured, they often carried a significant amount of British currency. MI5 needed to ensure that the evidence trail for these banknotes was traceable, as the money might need to be produced at the trial of the enemy agents. At the same time, the money that the agents brought could benefit MI5 and the Double-Cross system that it was running. How to hold onto the money (as evidence) while at the same time making use of it (for counter-espionage purposes?

In November 1940, the Bank of England and the Security Service figured out a solution to the problem.

An off…

Shot at the Tower - A Commemoration of the Spies executed in the Miniature Rifle Range

The year 2014 is the centenary of the beginning of World War I. From August 5 to November 11, the moat in the Tower of London has been progressively filled with ceramic poppies, one for every Commonwealth soldier who died during the war (888,246).The poppies cascade out of the Tower from two points, the Legge's Mount tower at the northwest corner of the Tower and from a point along the eastern wall.
The eastern cascade of poppies is located along that stretch of the outer wall near the Constable and Martin towers. During the two world wars, a miniature rifle range was located in the Outer Ward, between the Constable and Martin Towers.
The rifle range was torn down in the 1970s and a covered car park now occupies the former site between the Constable and Martin Towers. Until this year, no memorial has marked the site of the rifle range nor commemorated the deaths that occurred there during the two world wars.
Historic Royal Palaces commissioned a four part installation, Shot at the T…

The Artifacts of German spy Josef Jakobs

Artifacts from the imprisonment and execution of Josef Jakobs are not held in a central repository. Many organizations and individuals were involved in his capture, interrogation and execution and each seems to have acquired a little fragment of the story. Unfortunately some of the fragments are lost to history.

When Josef landed near Ramsey in Huntingdonshire, he had a variety of items in his possession including spy gear, personal items and clothing. Whatever became of those items and where can one see them?

National Archives
Many of the items that Josef brought were confiscated by MI5 and some of them ended up in the National Archives files in London including:
Shell Touring Road Map of  Great Britain – apparently this has now disappearedone electric torchRation Book & Identity CardsRemains of cipher discPost card from Clara Bauerlea couple of note books in the name of Kenneth C. Howard The National Archives also holds the original hand-written German letter that Josef wrote to …

A Life Torn to Shreds

The German spies who were sent to England from September 1940 to January 1941 were often equipped with a cipher disc to encipher their radio transmissions back to Germany.

Cipher discs were first described in a 1467 treatise by Leon Battista Alberti, an Italian Renaissance Man. Two discs, one larger than the other were pinned together and rotated around the pin. The message letters were commonly on the outside of the disc and the ciphered results were on the inside disc. Thus, using the disc at right, the word "cipher" would become "hwepgx". A variation of the Alberti cipher disc was also used during the American Civil War. The Germans took the standard cipher disc and added their own particular twist to it, adding numbers on both the inside and outside wheel. Handwritten on heavy card stock, the German cipher discs varied from agent to agent but were helpfully numbered sequentially by their spymasters.

When Josef Jakobs parachuted into England on the ev…