Showing posts from January, 2015

Today in 1941 - January 31 - Josef Jakobs landed by parachute near the village of Ramsey in Huntingdonshire

On this day in 1941, German spy Josef Jakobs descended from a German airplane over the dark fields of England. Like many parachutist spies, Josef hurt himself during the descent, breaking his ankle as he left the aircraft.

At about 7:30 pm local time, Josef landed in a potato field on Dovehouse Farm, near the village of Ramsey in Huntingdonshire. Josef's arrival went unnoticed by the inhabitants of Dovehouse Farm and nearby Wistow Fen Farm. It was a cold, dark, January night and everyone was tucked inside, snug and warm around the Aga cooker.

Josef would spend the next 12 hours, alone in the clammy mud of an English field, awaiting discovery by peasant farmers.

Book Review - Fighting to Lose: How the German Secret Intelligence Service helped the Allies win the Second World War - John Bryden (2014)

The Book
Fighting to Lose: How the German Secret Intelligence Service helped the Allies win the Second World War. John Bryden. Dundurn. 2014.

There have been many books written about the triumph of the British double-cross system run by MI5 during World War II. The inept German Abwehr (German Secret Intelligence Service) sent poorly trained spies to Britain who were then turned into double agents by MI5. These double-agents sent incorrect information back to Germany and helped win the war.

So goes the story. But even within MI5 at the time, there was head-scratching over the clumsiness of the Abwehr. Could they really be that stupid? That inefficient? The Germans, who were the paragon of efficiency?

Shoulders were shrugged and the story persisted that the Germans were inept and inexperienced at espionage and that the British were sly and successful. But is that the real story? I had never questioned that story until I read this book.

Bryden builds on the work of several other au…

A Peek inside Wandsworth Prison

I went to prison while visiting London last year.

Before that statement gives my parents heart failure, I must note that I went to prison as a visitor, not as an inmate. It was an enlightening and disturbing experience.

A few months prior to my visit, I had contacted Prison Officer Stewart McLaughlin who also serves as the curator of the Wandsworth Prison Museum.

Stewart was very helpful and quite happily arranged for me to visit the prison and see the cell in which Josef was kept from July 24, 1941 until the morning of his execution on August 15, 1941.

Getting into prison, even as a visitor, was no small feat. I had to divest myself of: money, cell phone, camera, memory cards, knapsack and identification.

I was given a "visitor" tag to wear around my neck and Stewart escorted me out of the Administration block and into the prison yard.

Alas, having no camera, I was unable to take any photographs inside the prison, but have scrounged a few from the web.

Wandsworth Prison wa…

Book Review - In the Highest Degree Odious: Detention without Trial in Wartime Britain - A.W. Brian Simpson (1984)

The Book
In the Highest Degree Odious: Detention without Trial in Wartime Britain. A.W. Simpson. Clarendon Press. 1984.

This book was riveting and eye-opening. It is perhaps best encapsulated by a quote from Churchill, part of which forms the title of the book:
The Power of the Executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgement of his peers, is in the highest degree odious and is the foundation of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist. The author, who passed away in 2011 was a lawyer, British legal historian, author and professor of law.

In this particular book, he delved into the detention of British citizens during World War 2. In May 1940, the German Army launched an offensive against the Low Countries and France. The speed of their advance was incomprehensible to the Allies and led to the belief that a Fifth Column must have been at work in the Low Countries. With most of Continental E…

The Rocky Road to Josef Jakobs' Court Martial: The Officer Commanding Grenadier Guards

The court martial of an enemy agent was no simple matter. Josef Jakobs was a member of the German military, the English had decided that he could be tried by a court martial. But in order to comply with military law, Josef needed to have a commanding officer who could implement the proceedings. In late July, Josef Jakobs was attached to the Grenadier Guards for disciplinary purposes, which meant that Lt. Col. George Mervyn Cornish, Officer Commanding Holding Battalion Grenadier Guards, was now Josef's commanding officer.

George Mervyn Cornish
George was born on 11 September 1884 in Yarmouth, Norfolkshire, nestled on the shores of the North Sea. Yarmouth missed out on being the easternmost point in England by just a few metres, that honour went to Lowestoft, a town a few kilometres south of Yarmouth. Young George was the first child of Australian expats, Lt. George William Cornish and Maud Ethel Nathan.

George Sr. had a most interesting career. In 1877, at the tender age of 17, Geor…

The Rocky Road to Josef Jakobs' Court Martial: the Judge Advocate

MI5's application to have German spy Josef Jakobs tried by court martial had been accepted by the Attorney General in late June. The officers of MI5 had anticipated that the court martial would take place within two weeks of the AG's approval but there was some difficulty in arranging military prison accommodations for Josef within London. Thus the proceedings for Josef's court martial were delayed significantly.

Finally, on July 22, 1941, with all of the ducks firmly in a row, Josef was attached to the Grenadier Guards for disciplinary purposes. A week later, on July 28, a Summary of Evidence was held at Wellington Barracks under the direction of Major Anthony Marlowe, the barrister who would also serve as the Attorney for the Prosecution. The various witnesses read out their statements and Josef was given a chance to cross-examine them if he so desired. Given that an interpreter was not present, nor a defence lawyer, Josef had little to contribute to the proceedings.


The Rocky Road to Josef Jakobs' Court Martial: The Judge Advocate General of His Majesty's Forces

In late June 1941, MI5 made a request to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to have German spy Josef Jakobs tried by court martial, rather than by a civilian court. The DPP forwarded the request to the Attorney General for his approval, which was granted on June 24, 1941. The very next day, the DPP wrote a letter to the Judge Advocate General (JAG) of His Majesety's Forces, informing him that Josef Jakobs would be tried by court martial, a proceeding which was under the control of the JAG.

The office of the Judge Advocate General was established in 1666 and was created to supervise "courts-martial". By the time of World War II, the Office of the Judge Advocate General oversaw the legal system of the British Armed Forces. The JAG was always a civilian, although he (to-date no woman has served in this role) may have served in the military prior to his appointment. The JAG was assisted by a team of civilian judges and a small staff of civil servants.

On June 25, 1941…

The Rocky Road to Josef Jakobs' Court Martial: The Attorney General for England and Wales

The British Security Service (MI5) needed to jump through several bureaucratic hoops in order to have German spy Josef Jakobs tried by court martial. Their application for a court martial first landed on the desk of the the Director of Public Prosecutions who, after reviewing it, sent it on to the Attorney General on June 24.

According to the Treachery Act, the Attorney General's fiat or approval was required to try someone by court martial. The Director of Public Prosecutions, Edward Hale Tindal Atkinson, had consulted with Parliamentary draftsmen and knew that it was the Attorney General's intention to limit the use of his power by only accepting court martial applications for enemy aliens who were in the military service of their country. Of all the cases before them, MI5 knew that Josef's case had the best chance of being approved for court martial - an enemy alien who was in military service to Germany.

The Attorney General, Sir Donald Somervell, received the applicat…