29 February 2016

Book Review - Horrible Histories - Spies

Horrible Histories - Spies
Wander through the bookstore at the Imperial War Museum and you're likely to spy a book entitled Horrible Histories - Spies. It's a children's book designed to awaken young minds to the horrible history of World War 2 espionage. It does a rather admirable job.

The book is full of all sorts of interesting stories and facts, often related in a rather tongue-in-cheek fashion. For example, regarding Karel Richter, the book has this to say:
On 14 May 1941 German spy Karel Richter dropped into England on a parachute. He buried the parachute. Sadly crackpot Karel also buried his food supplies by mistake. After two days he was ill with hunger and the police caught him when he was taken to hospital. He was hanged. At least he didn't die hungry.
Horrible Histories - Spies - page 77
A few factual errors (date and method of his capture) but on the whole, the account is accurate, and designed to illicit a rueful laugh from the reader. Mind you, after a while, the word play becomes a bit annoying, at least to an adult reader. It might still illicit guffaws and knee-slapping (or LOL's these days) from younger readers.

On page 77, in a chapter entitled Dead Wrong, the authors note the list of enemy spies executed in Britain during World War 2.

The list notes their name, age, execution date, method of execution and location of execution. At the bottom of the page, the authors note:

The list of enemy spies who got away with it is shorter... because there were none. Some of the captured spies started to spy for Britain instead.

This is, naturally, not altogether accurate. There was at least one spy who escaped detection, Jan Willem Ter Braak (Engelbertus Fukken) and rumours of several others still float around the internet.

On the whole though, if you have a young person whom you want to interest in WW2 espionage, this book is a good start. You also might want to check if the Imperial War Museum still has its exhibit on Horrible Histories - Spies up.

24 February 2016

Another Dead-End with Tin-Eye Stephens

Lt. Col. R.W.G. Stephens
A few weeks back, I ordered the Army Personnel Record for Robert/Robin William George Stephens, former Commandant of MI5's wartime interrogation centre, Camp 020. I've discovered quite a bit about Stephens through other sources, but his date of death still eludes me. Given that Hinchley-Cooke's Army file noted his death, I had hopes that Stephens' file might reveal the same. Alas, not so.

The records provided by the Army Personnel Centre for Stephens lack any family information and are generally notices of his promotions and/or assignments. A few tidbits of information came to light.
  • Stephens name is listed as Robin William Granor Stephens - not sure why given that his middle name was definitely George. Searching for the death of a Granor Stephens has yielded no results so far.
  • Stephens was granted an OBE (Civil) on 1 January 1946. Even with that firm date, the actual notice in the Gazette still eludes me.
  • Stephens regimental number was 157471. This bit of information allows one to search through Gazette listings by his regimental number. 
  • Around 1954, Stephens was appointed Commander (Brigadier) of the Port & Travel Control Group, an intelligence unit that inspected Warsaw Pact ships which docked at English ports. He apparently held this position until his retirement in 1960.
  • From 1957 to 1960, notices sent to Stephens were addressed to 18 Cadogan Gardens, Chelsea SW 3, London.
18 Cadogan Gardens, Chelsea SW 3, London
Former HQ of Port and Travel Control Group
(From Google Streetview)
The Port and Travel Control Group, as with most intelligence units, was a bit mysterious. According to Sharing the Secret: The History of the Intelligence Corps 1940-2010 (Nick Van Der Bijl):
Colonel H.F. Hinchley-Cooke [likely our friend W.E. Hinchley-Cooke] formed the Port and Travel Control Group under the operational control of MI5 of about ninety former Corps, their targets being  Warsaw Pact ships and lorries arriving at Dover and other ports. Initially located at the Duke of York's Barracks, Chelsea, the Group later moved to the sumptuous accommodation of the former Turkish Embassy at 18 Cadogan Gardens. (page 206).

Interesting that Stephens would have been working in the same building (Duke of York's Headquarters/Barracks) where Josef Jakobs had been court-martialed.

As for the information provided by the Army Personnel Office, the notices in Stephens' file all bear folio numbers - e.g. 131B, 135A, 137A, 149A, 157A, 163A, 169A. One naturally wonders where the intervening and preceding folios might be. Perhaps the above ones were extracted from a different file, for example, the Port & Travel Control Group. Hard to say.
From Army Personnel File of R.W.G. Stephens
I do tend to wonder if MI5 has files on all of their officers which it has simply chosen not to declassify. Unfortunate. It would be nice to lay Stephens to rest!

10 February 2016

RSLO Cambridge - Cyril Egerton Dixon

In the early years of World War II, particularly 1940 and 1941, MI5 was inundated with reports of suspicious people, flashing lights, strange markings on telegraph poles and spies dressed as nuns.

In the middle of June 1940, MI5 appointed Regional Security Liaison Officers (R.S.L.O.) to the headquarters of the two Civil Defence Regions seen to be under imminent threat of a German invasion (Cambridge & Tunbridge Wells). By the end of September, 1940, every region in the country would have an R.S.L.O.

Letter from C.E. Dixon (RSLO Cambridge) to D.G. White (MI5)  (From National Archives, KV 2/30 - Karel Richter file)
Letter from C.E. Dixon (RSLO Cambridge) to D.G. White (MI5)
(From National Archives, KV 2/30 - Karel Richter file)
It was the job of the R.S.L.O. to assist the local police in arresting, searching and interrogating suspicious characters.

The R.S.L.O. for Cambridge, an officer by the name of Dixon, was a very busy man indeed, handling the apprehension of several German parachute spies: Gosta Caroli, Wulf Schmidt, Kurt Karl Goose (sometimes called Hans Reysen), Josef Jakobs and Karel Richter.

Tracing Dixon has proved to be a tad difficult. One author suggested his first name was Richard/Dickie/Dicky, but this may have simply been a nickname. Perhaps "Dixon" was shortened to "Dicky" or he had a "dickie" leg. MI5 reports signed by Dixon indicate his first initials were C.E. After a few stabs at it, it appears that the most likely candidate is one Cyril Egerton Dixon who, just to confuse matters, sometimes went by the name Cecil.

Cyril Egerton Dixon
King's Own Scottish Borderers
King's Own Scottish Borderers
Cyril was born on 21 July, 1903, in Berwick, Scotland, to Colonel Sir Henry Grey Dixon and Constance Ethel Mitchell-Innes. Cyril's father, had an illustrious military career serving with the King's Own Scottish Borderers. Sir Henry saw action in Afghanistan, Sudan, Egypt and South Africa. He even served as Aide-de-Camp to Queen Victoria (1898-1901) and King Edward (1901-1907).

Sir Henry and Constance had one other child, born in 1901, Harold Grey Dixon. Cyril's older brother served briefly with the Dorset Regiment from 1918-1919, as an Observer Officer with the Royal Air Force. In 1923, Harold left England for Malaya where he became involved in rubber tree plantations.

There isn't much on Cyril's early life although some evidence suggests that in 1925 he was a 2nd Lieutenant with the King's Own Scottish Borderers. It would also appear that Cyril was a cricketer, a right-handed batsman, playing for Hampshire in the 1926 County Championship.

London Gazette - 1940 - Intelligence Corps listing
The next time we find mention of him is in a copy of the 1940 London Gazette where he was enlisted into the Intelligence Corps.

The Army List from 1941 also makes note that C.E. Dixon received an Emergency Commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Intelligence Corps.

British Army List - 1941 - Intelligence Corps
Even though Cyril was a 2nd Lieutenant, as of June 8, 1940, he was first an Acting Captain and then an Acting Major.

Interestingly, J.C. Masterman, of Double Cross committee fame, is listed just a few lines above Cyril.

Alas, beyond these tantalizing references, Dixon managed to keep a low profile during the war. Although he was involved in the apprehension of several German parachutists, he generally managed to avoid testifying at their trials (e.g. those of Richter and Jakobs). Dixon did get into a bit of trouble in the spring of 1941 after German spy Engelbertus Fukken (alias Jan Willem ter Braak) committed suicide in a Cambridge air raid shelter. As it would turn out, Fukken had landed near Milton Keynes in early November 1940 and ended up living just around the corner from Dixon.

Towards the end of the war, Dixon served with Counter-Intelligence (CI) in India (Delhi Intelligence Bureau), setting up the Counter Intelligence Combined Board (CICB). As a Colonel in 1946, Dixon served in Singapore, reforming the Combined Intelligence Far East (CIFE) as Security Intelligence Far East (SIFE). He briefly served as head of SIFE before passing leadership on to Malcolm Johnson of MI5.

After his career as an intelligence officer, Col. Dixon apparently traveled back and forth to Africa as secretary for W.A.I.T.R. (West African Institute For Trypanosomiasis Research) (ship passenger records).

Cyril (or Cecil) passed away in Rye, Sussex on 3 March, 1973.

The Peerage
The Gazette
British Army List
Ancestry.com - genealogy records
Wikipedia - Security Intelligence Far East 
Historical Dictionary of British Intelligence, Nigel West (entry for SIFE)

05 February 2016

Lt. R.W. Taylor - Doctor at the Tower of London

Prescriptions for Rudolf Hess (left) and Josef Jakobs (right) (courtesy of Royal Armouries)
Prescriptions for Rudolf Hess (left) and Josef Jakobs (right)
(courtesy of Royal Armouries)
A few years ago, two prescriptions from the estate of London chemist H.A. Rowe went up for auction.

One was for Rudolf Hess, who was held at the Tower of London in May 1941 and the other was for Josef Jakobs, who was executed at the Tower in August 1941.

The Tower of London was the successful bidder for the prescriptions and Bridget Clifford from the Royal Armouries kindly shared a copy of the documents with me.

Originally, I was writing this post to touch, very briefly, on the identity of Lt. R.W. Taylor, the military doctor stationed at the Tower of London who signed both prescriptions. His identity however, is a bit of a mystery due in part to the lack of forenames and his rather common surname.

R.W. Taylor M.B., Army List - 1941
R.W. Taylor M.B., Army List - 1941
On 21 October 1940, one R.W. Taylor M.B. (Medicinae Baccalaureus) received an Emergency Commission as a Lieutenant, but beyond that, there is very little information on our Tower doctor.

Without any first names, trying to pin down the identity of the doctor is a bit challenging.
Prescription for Rudolf Hess (courtesy of Royal Armouries)
Prescription for Rudolf Hess
(courtesy of Royal Armouries)

There was a Ronald Wentworth Taylor who went on to become an obstetrician in the 1950s and 1960s, but whether this man is identical with our Lieutenant is up for grabs.

Prescription for Josef Jakobs (courtesy of Royal Armouries)
Prescription for Josef Jakobs
(courtesy of Royal Armouries)
On the other hand, I did notice something interesting with the two prescriptions.

First up, the prescription for Rudolf Hess. You can see that R.W. Taylor (Lt. RAMC) has signed the prescription and that the pen he used seems to be identical with the actual prescription. The ink is quite dark and you can see that the initials of the chemist, H.A. Rowe, are made using a different pen.

If we take a look at Josef Jakobs' prescription, we see something different.

The pen that was used for Josef's prescription seems to be the same as the one used by H.A. Rowe. It is of a similar tone and width. The signature of R.W. Taylor is slightly darker and the line appears sharper, not as soft as the H.A.R. pen.

In addition, if you compare the "H" of the chemist's initials, you can see that it is virtually identical with the "H" in "H.M. Tower of London".

The handwriting on Josef's prescription is very different from the Hess prescription. It is much neater and of a very different style. If we agree that Hess's prescription was written by R.W. Taylor then we are left to conclude that Josef's prescription was written by H.A. Rowe, not by Lt. R.W. Taylor, which is very curious.
Close-up of Prescription for Josef Jakobs (courtesy of Royal Armouries)
Close-up of Prescription for Josef Jakobs
(courtesy of Royal Armouries)

Perhaps our Lt. R.W. Taylor simply sent a blank signed prescription to the chemist with a note asking for something to calm the nerves and the stomach, trusting that the chemist would prescribe what was required. This might explain why the prescription is made out to "A English Esquire". Rowe had no idea for whom the prescription was required. A few days later, however, after Josef's execution, Rowe put two and two together and made a note on the back of Josef's prescription.
Note on the back of Josef's prescription. It reads:
18.8.41 Prescription for Josef Jacobst [sic], dispensed by me as over leaf. H.A.Rowe.
(courtesy of Royal Armouries)

01 February 2016

Capture of German Spy, Josef Jakobs - 75th Anniversary

Site of Josef Jakobs' landing at Dovehouse Farm
Ramsey, Huntingdonshire
(Copyright G.K. Jakobs)
2016 marks the 75th anniversary of Josef Jakobs' ill-fated espionage mission to England. On the evening of January 31, 1941, Josef parachuted down from a Heinkel 111 aircraft.

Having broken his ankle during his exit from the plain, Josef lay in agony for 12 hours before attracting the attention of some passing farmers on the morning of February 1. Less than 7 months later, Josef would be executed as a spy at the Tower of London.

In May 2010, I visited Dovehouse Farm near the village of Ramsey, Huntingdonshire. Winston Ramsey, founder and editor of After the Battle Magazine graciously offered to serve as chauffeur and tour guide. It was a most enlightening trip.

It is only when one stands on the windy fens around Ramsey that one truly gets a sense of the futility of Josef's mission. A man dressed in the latest continental fashions, with a poor grasp of the English language, would have stood out like a sore thumb.

 Josef's mission ended before it really began.

Myself and Poppy the Dovehouse Farm Dog
standing on the approximate landing
site of Josef Jakobs.
(Copyright G.K. Jakobs)