Book Review - Shot in the Tower by Leonard Sellers (1997)

Shot in the Tower - book cover.
Shot in the Tower - cover.

The Book
Shot in the Tower: The Story of the Spies executed in the Tower of London during the First World War, Leonard Sellers. Leo Cooper, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, 1997.

Eleven German spies were executed in the Tower of London during World War I. Their stories are ably recounted by Sellers in this book. Drawing on several books published in the 1920s and the declassified MI5 files, Sellers paints touching portraits of each of the erstwhile spies. Some were courageous, some were cowards. The espionage activities of some where comical while others were more accomplished.

Tucked at the end of the book is a brief appendix which mentions Josef Jakobs. While not executed during World War I, Jakobs was the last person executed in the Tower. While the MI5 files on Jakobs had not yet been declassified, the information provided by Sellers is accurate.

Josef Jakobs was the only spy to be executed in the Tower of London in the Second World War. At 8:20 am on Saturday, 1 February, 1941, two farm-workers were walking across Dovehouse Farm, Ramsey Hollow, Huntingdonshire, when they heard what appeared to be three pistol shots. They found a man, Jakobs, lying on his back, covered by a camouflaged parachute - he had broken his leg. The man threw the weapon into a steel helmet, saying that he came from Hamburg and was in no war. But he had torn up a code and had buried an attache case under his body. The case contained a wireless transmitter that could work both short and long waves. Jakobs also had in his possession a small torch with a flashing device, and a map that was marked in positions corresponding to the RAF aerodrome of Upwood and the satellite airfield of Warboys.

Jakobs went before a court martial on 4-5 August, 1941, at the Duke of York Headquarters, Chelsea. He was found guilty and sentenced to death by shooting. He was executed in the Tower of London on 15 August, 1941.

A sobering read, Seller's book gets high marks for historical accuracy, particularly as regards Jakobs.

Review Score
4 out of 5 - The piece on Josef, while short, is accurate.


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