31 March 2017

Media Review - Spy! - Episode 2: Camp 020 - 1980

Screenshot from Spy! Episode 2 - Camp 020 - BBC - 1980
Screenshot from Spy! Episode 2 - Camp 020 - BBC - 1980
BBC - Spy! Episode 2: Camp 020 (1980)

Original Air Date - 20 January 1980
TV Series - Spy!

Duration - 47:00 minutes

Director - John Bird

A few years ago, I read snippets from Christopher Andrew's authorized history of MI5 (The Defence of the Realm). At the time, I was digging into background information on Lt. Colonel Robin William George Stephens.  Andrews noted that:

Screenshot from Spy! Episodee 2 - Camp 020 - BBC - 1980 The Major receives a call from the Commandant in the Officer's Mess.
Screenshot from Spy! Episode 2 - Camp 020 - BBC - 1980
The Major receives a call from the Commandant in
the Officer's Mess.
"In 1980, ten former members of the secretarial staff at Camp 020 (some of whom had worked there from its opening in July 1940 to its closure at the end of the war) made a "vigorous' public protest at the BBC's portrayal of Tin-Eye Stephens of MI5 as a violent bully:

 'In fact the Commandant, though of terrifying aspect, was a skilled interrogator who obtained results without recourse to assault and battery. Indeed, the very basis of Camp 020 procedure was that nobody raised a hand against a prisoner. ... In sum, the Commandant's behaviour towards his officers, secretarial staff, guard troops and prisoners was, in our experience, always scrupulously correct.' "

Screenshot from Spy! Episodee 2 - Camp 020 - BBC - 1980 Hans Hansen (Wulf Schmidt) undergoes his first interrogation at Camp 020 by Lt. Duthie.
Screenshot from Spy! Episode 2 - Camp 020 - BBC - 1980
Wulf Schmidt undergoes his first interrogation
at Camp 020 by Lt. Duthie.
I was rather intrigued to hear of this BBC show and some digging revealed it was most likely a TV Series entitled Spy! which broadcast in 1980. Episode 2 of the series dealt with Camp 020 but, given that the series aired over 37 years ago, trying to track down a copy seemed like a wild goose chase.

However, recently I was able to lay my hands on a copy of the episode in question and watched all 47 minutes with interest. In brief, the episode tells the story of Wulf Schmidt, a Danish national who landed in England via parachute in September 1940. He had been recruited by the German Abwehr but was captured rather quickly and brought to Camp 020 for interrogation.

Screenshot from Spy! Episode 2 - Camp 020 - BBC - 1980 Wulf Schmidt tries the patience of The Commandant
Screenshot from Spy! Episode 2 - Camp 020 - BBC - 1980
Wulf Schmidt tries the patience of The Commandant
Eventually, Wulf Schmidt was turned and became a double-agent, one who would broadcast mostly false information to the Germans right up until the end of the war. He was Britain's famous agent TATE.

Given that the show aired in 1980, before any of the MI5 records had been declassified, I was intrigued to see that Nigel West was credited with the research. West knew both Agent TATE and Major Thomas Argyll Robertson who ran the double-cross system. It would seem that much of the episode's material is based on the personal recollections of these two men.

There are, naturally, some inaccuracies, as with many personal recollections. The most glaring, and the one which the Camp 020 secretaries took such offense to, was the portrayal of Lt. Col. Stephens.

Screenshot from Spy! Episode 2 - Camp 020 - BBC - 1980 Wulf Schmidt being roughed up by the Commandant.
Screenshot from Spy! Episode 2 - Camp 020 - BBC - 1980
Wulf Schmidt being roughed up by the Commandant.
In the episode, Stephens barges in during Lt. Duthie's interrogation of Schmidt. Stephens ejects Duthie and the female secretary and then manhandles the stubborn Schmidt, punching him in the mouth. Based on what we know about Camp 020 and what took place there, this was more likely an altercation that took place between Schmidt and Colonel Scotland, Commandant of the infamous London Cage. Scotland was subsequently banned from Camp 020 interrogations for roughing up Schmidt.

Unfortunately, in the Spy! episode, the Commandant of Camp 020 seems to be a blend of Scotland and Stephens.

While Stephens did like to use the "blow hot, blow cold" method (essentially, good cop-bad cop), he was very much again physical beatings. At least at Camp 020.

Screenshot from Spy! Episode 2 - Camp 020 - BBC - 1980
Dr. Harold Dearden - mastermind behind Camp 020's
interrogation techniques.
I also found it interesting that while several different Abwehr officers were mentioned by their correct names, only one of the Camp 020 staff were identified by their correct names: Dr. Harold Dearden. The Commandant has no name. The Major is likely meant to be T.A. Robertson. Lt. Duthie and Lt. Pringle are pseudonyms for other Camp 020 officers, identities unknown. Although, if we dug in the TATE files from the National Archives, we could probably identify the officers involved in Schmidt's initial interrogations.

While the episode does have some historical inaccuracies, it is fascinating to watch as it is one of the few pieces of film media that deal with Camp 020 and the double-cross system. I thoroughly enjoyed it and... if anyone else wants to see it, let me know via email.

IMDb - entry for Spy! Camp 020.
BBC Genome - entry for Spy! Camp 020.
Christopher Andrew - Defend the Realm - The Authorized History of MI5, 2009.

26 March 2017

BS Historian Blog and Blank Rounds

Tower of London - East Walk - display commemorating wartime spy executions
Tower of London - East Walk - display
commemorating wartime spy executions
I came across a WordPress blog yesterday entitled the BS Historian - Sceptical Commentary on Pseudohistory and the Paranormal. I'll leave it to everyone's imagination as to what "BS" stands for. The anonymous author of the blog wrote a post on: Conscience Bullets – Firing Squads and the use of blank cartridges.

The blog author mentions Josef's execution and states that "There is no evidence to suggest that a blank cartridge was used in Jakobs’ case."

I don't agree with that statement as I do think there is a fair bit of commentary that indicates that was indeed the case. One of my blog posts looked at the British Procedure for Military Executions by Firing Squad, a document which states that two blank rounds were to be used.

The reasoning behind some rounds being blank was thought to be that it afforded each member of the firing squad a bit of doubt - "did I really fire the lethal round?". This worked well in the days of muskets when the wad that was placed in the muzzle along with the ball of shot also generated recoil. It was hard to tell the difference between a musket loaded with wad and ball and one just loaded with the wad. With modern rifles and bullets, any skilled marksman would notice the difference between the recoil of a live round versus that of a blank round (recoil was less due to absence of a bullet). But apparently, over time, the mind could convince itself that the recoil was softer. Another possible explanation was that should the firing squad ever be brought before a tribunal (e.g. by the enemy), each could plausibly deny that they had fired the lethal round. While the reason behind the modern-day usage of blank rounds might be a mystery, it was clear from the Military Police Manual, that blank rounds were issued.

22 March 2017

Pervitin in Josef Jakobs' Pocket

A book came out last year, written by a German author, that outlines the widespread use of drugs in the Third Reich. One of the main drugs was Pervitin, whose active ingredient is methamphetamine - today known as crystal meth.

Pervitin vial
I had come across suggestions of this before, that the German troops favoured methamphetamine while the American troops favoured benzedrine. Both drugs helped soldiers to stay awake, focused their attention and just helped them to perform at a higher level.

Norman Ohler, author of Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany goes even farther though and notes that Pervitin was seen as something of a wonder drug and was taken by housewives, truck drivers, train conductors and even Adolf Hitler.

"While Adolf Hitler allowed the world to believe he was a teetotaller who didn’t even touch coffee, a man who had thrown his last cigarettes into the Danube, the reality was that he was a super-junkie, addicted to cocaine, the heroin-like eukodal, and a toxic cocktail of narcotics supplied by Theodor Morell, a doctor described as ‘the Reich injection master’."

That would certainly explain a lot about Hitler - his manic energy, his crazyness. The thing with sustained use of methamphetamine is that it can lead to psychosis. No wonder then that the German war machine stuttered and died in the latter years of the war.

When German spy Josef Jakobs, was captured at Dove House Farm in Ramsey, Huntingdonshire, he had several packets of pills in his pockets. One of the packets was an aluminum screw-top container that contained white pills which Josef claimed "helped one to stay awake". British tests showed it to be methedrine or benzedrine - essentially methamphetamine. Most likely it was a capsule of Pervitin. Perhaps the Luftwaffe crew gave him a vial... or maybe the German Abwehr officers. Or maybe it was just normal to carry around a vial of crystal meth in Nazi Germany.

I haven't read Ohler's book yet, but it sounds very interesting. The story about Pervitin use by the troops of the Third Reich is not a new one. A 45 minute YouTube video outlines the history of the drug as well, for those who are interested. Alas, the video is in German and used Google Translate to generate English subtitles which, apparently, are not all that accurate.

Daily Mail - Blitzed Krieg: How Nazis rampaging across Europe were fuelled not just by blind fanaticism but CRYSTAL METH - supplied by a cocaine-addicted Fuhrer fed daily drug cocktails by the Reich ‘injection master’ - published online 2016 09 03.

Spiegel - The Nazi Death Machine - Hitler's Drugged Soldiers - published online 2005 05 06. 

17 March 2017

The India General Service Medal of Robin William George (a.k.a. Tin-Eye) Stephens

Lt. Col. Robin William George Stephens (a.k.a. Tin-Eye Stephens)
Lt. Col. Robin William
George Stephens
(a.k.a. Tin-Eye Stephens)
It's been a while since I wrote a post on Lt. Col. Robin William George Stephens, a.k.a. Tin-Eye Stephens, fearsome former commandant of MI5s secret wartime interrogation centre, Camp 020.

I have, through this blog and my website, made contact with a distant relative of Stephens. Together, I'm hoping that we might crack the case of Stephen's death and place of burial.

In the meantime, I contacted the author of the 2014 Medal News article who has Stephens' India General Service Medal. I thought that perhaps tracing the history of the medal might lead us closer to Stephens himself. The author of the Medal News article bought the medal in the 1990s from a dealer in Norfolk.

India General Service Medal with five clasps of Robin William George Stephens (From Medal News May 2014)
India General Service
Medal with five clasps
of Robin William George
(From Medal News
May 2014)
Information that accompanied the medal indicated that "it was formerly in the collection of a well-known collector, Colonel Kingsley Foster and sold by Glendining (formerly a leading London dealer) in December 1971. Quite likely Foster acquired the medal directly from Stephens."

That seemed like a rather tantalizing lead. A quick internet search led me to a website entitled "The Nugents of Antigua". An entire page is devoted to Kingsley Osbern Nugent Foster, a member of the Peerage who served with the Northumberland Fusiliers.

Kingsley Osbern Nugent Foster (from Nugents of Antigua website)
Kingsley Osbern Nugent Foster
(from Nugents of Antigua website)
The website gives quite a bit of history for Kingsley and I won't repeat it here, other than to say that the information came from Kingsley's daughter, Patricia Foster.

I did learn a few things. Kingsley was a serious medal collector and amassed a collection that was "second to few in the British Isles and was the greatest authority on the subject in the army. He had already published one book on the subject and was writing a second". From what I can gather, Kingsley's first book was entitled "The Military General Service Medal Roll - 1793-1814", published in 1947.

Alas, before Kingsley could publish his second book, he was killed in action while commanding the 1st Battalion, Royal Northumberland Fusiliers at Imjin River, Korea on 25 April, 1951. He was only 44 years old. He is buried at the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Busan, Korea.
Kingsley Osbern Nugent Foster - war memorial headstone
at Busan, Korea (Section 24 Row 1 Grave Number 1700)
(From Ancestry.com website)
What became of Kingsley's amazing medal collection? Some of them ended up at the Regimental Museum, Alnwick Castle. Others were sold to support his widow. But what about the General India Service Medal of our friend, Robin William George Stephens? Given that Kingsley passed away in 1951, it is highly unlikely that he purchased Stephens medal after that date. Stephens must have sold the medal to Kingsley, or to some other medal dealer, at some point prior to that, perhaps in the mid 1930s, when Stephens declared bankruptcy. Hard to say.

I had been using the 1971 date as a loose bookend, thinking that Stephens must have passed away before that date if his medals were being sold off. Clearly this is not the case.

So, the last real trace we have of Stephens is 1963, living in Brighton. Beyond that, we do know that he was deceased when his wife Joan passed away in 1992. A rather broad expanse of time, but we will just have to keep digging.

Nugents of Antigua - page on Kingsley Osbern Foster - written by his daughter Patricia

Fusiliers Association

Ancestry - genealogical website

Imperial War Museum - link to his memorial at Northumberland Fusiliers Museum

Northeast War Memorials Project - has photos of the medals at Northumberland Fusiliers Museum

Last Stand: Famous Battles Against The Odds by Bryan Perrett - snippets are available through Google Books - gives an account of Foster's death during an ambush by the Chinese

Roll of Honour - Cambridgeshire - has a picture of a memorial in Hildersham

13 March 2017

P.S. to the Paranormal surrounding Bella in the Wych Elm

Two local newspapers (Dudley News and Hales Owen News) from the West Midlands in the UK, recently carried the same article about the HD Paranormal investigation into Bella in the Wych Elm. See my blog post from Friday March3...

Both articles note:
Jayne has also been in touch with the grand-daughter of Josef Jakobs - a German spy and the last man to be executed at the Tower of London after he was captured parachuting into the UK in 1941.

She said: "He had a photo with him of a lady who matched ‘Bella's’ description, named Clarabella, and claimed she was a spy and that he was supposed to meet her in the West Midlands.”
The articles contains a few factual errors.  First off, I was never contacted by Jayne and therefore the "She said:" in the second paragraph does not refer to myself.

The photo Josef had on his person was of Clara Bauerle (not Clarabella) who was described as being a "tall" woman by Josef and another spy who knew her. Given that Bella in the Wych Elm was around 5 feet tall, I'm not entirely sure I would say their descriptions "match".

Josef said that Clara Bauerle was possibly going to be spent to England but, given that the German Abwehr had not heard from him, he doubted that they would send her over. Since the Germans would also have heard about Josef's execution on August 15, 1941 (courtesy of widely available international newspapers), it is highly unlikely that they would have sent Clara to meet up with Josef (who was, at that point, deceased). Or perhaps the Abwehr decided to send her over to spring Josef out of MI5s clutches? I'm sure Clara could have used her feminine wiles to sneak her way into Camp 020 or Wandsworth Prison or the Tower of London. A regular Mata Hari perhaps.

Josef also never said that he was to meet her in the West Midlands.

One could, naturally, wonder... if the Abwehr was really going to send Clara Bauerle over to England, would they have let one of their agents travel with a picture postcard of her? Rather hard to imagine...

I still think D.J. Cockburn has the best theory...

08 March 2017

Terra Incerta Blog on The Fatal Chair

Chair in which Josef Jakobs was executed at the Tower of London
Chair in which Josef Jakobs was
executed at the Tower of London
A few days ago, Kit Ward sent me a link to his blog on the chair used at Josef's execution. He drew on my website and blog for a lot of the information and got most of the details correct.

It's always nice when people touch base before, or after, posting a blog. Even nicer when they have a link back to my website and blog.

The chair is obviously an evocative image that speaks for itself without needing a lot of words.

03 March 2017

The Paranormal Side of Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm

Clara Bauerle
Yup, more Bella in the Wych Elm. It seems that this story will never rest. HD Paranormal is raising funds for a film on Bella using previously classified police and MI5 records. You can check out their page here.

They have naturally latched onto the idea that Bella is actually Clara Bauerle, the German cabaret singer who mysteriously "disappeared" in 1941. Despite the fact that I tracked down Clara's death registration in Berlin (she died December 16, 1942 of veronal poisoning), several people have questioned whether this might not just be a cover up. I guess if one is a conspiracy theorist, then one can find conspiracies and cover-ups wherever one looks.

Given that Bella's body is MIA and that there is very little information on either Clara or Bella... it is rather easy to create all sorts of juicy stories.

I've said all I'm going to say about Bella not being Clara. Dig around in this blog and you'll find it all. I was asked to participate in the HD Paranormal film production and I politely declined.

I will say this... proving a theory like this would require something concrete and positive. Plausibility does not a theory prove. I tracked down Clara Bauerle's birth and death registrations - concrete physical documents. If someone wants to argue that there was a cover-up... then there would need to be concrete proof of that cover-up... not speculation.