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Showing posts from January, 2018

Wanted: Parachute Spies - No Training Provided

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Seventy-seven years ago, in the evening of January 31, 1941, Josef Jakobs left Schipol Aerodrome on the Continent in the belly of a matte-black HE-111 aircraft. Less than two hours later, he parachuted into England with a wireless transmitter strapped to his chest. He injured his right leg during his exit from the aircraft, smashing it against the side of the trapdoor opening. His right leg was further damaged when he landed in a freshly ploughed potato field near Ramsey. Unable to move, he hunkered under the thin silk of his camouflaged parachute, awaiting the light of day.

Josef had never parachuted before that fateful day in 1941. In fact, he had never even practiced a parachute jump. His spy handlers with the German Abwehr didn't even give him any ground training. They told him that a practice jump would make him more nervous the second time around, and that the first jump was often "lucky". One could wonder if those handlers had ever experienced a parachute jump.

In…

Josef Jakobs - Agent of the Abwehr or the Gestapo?

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In March 2013, Alison Vale wrote an article for The Independent, which connected German cabaret singer Clara Bauerle with Bella in the Wych Elm. The article noted that Josef Jakobs was a "Czech-born Gestapo agent". Since then, numerous web articles, blogs and news articles have propagated that information. Unfortunately, that statement is not accurate.

Czech or German?
Josef Jakobs was born in Luxembourg of German parents. He was of German nationality and there is absolutely nothing within his files that would indicate any Czech-origins or familial connections. All of the information on Josef within the declassified MI5 files points to his German nationality.
The author of the Independent article may have confused Josef Jakobs with Karel Richard Richter, another Abwehr agent who landed via parachute in May 1941 near London Colney. Richter was born in the Sudetenland, a German-speaking area of Czechoslovakia. After the Sudentenland was "appropriated" by the Germans,…

An Intriguing Stage Production of Bella in the Wych Elm

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Back in December 2017, I received a fascinating email from Tom Drayton, Director of Pregnant Fish Theatre and lecturer at the Universities of East London and Worcester. Tom teaches archival performance which sounds kind of strange until you learn that he basically "teaches students how to engage with archival material and research through performance experiments whilst also adhering to ethical and moral complications that arise when theatre meets real people’s lives and histories". A different style of theatre!


For the past year, Tom, his students and the theatre company have been "obsessed with the ‘Bella’ case and the complex connections it has with a great many different topics both in Britain and beyond". Not surprising... Bella is a mystery rooted in obsession! Tom's intention for the project is to "explore theatre’s role in our current cultural fascination with True Crime, and find a way of ethically interpreting archival and historical sourc…

Book Review - The London Cage: The Secret History of Britain's World War II Interrogation Centre (2017)

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The Book
The London Cage: The Secret History of Britain's World War II Interrogation Centre. Helen Fry. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2017.

Summary
The London Cage stormed into public view over 10 years ago (2005) when Ian Cobain published a provocative article in The Guardian - The Secrets of the London Cage. The article took the lid off and established that torture had been used at the London Cage. Cobain's follow-up book, Cruel Britannia (reviewed on my blog) pretty much put a nail in the coffin. Without a doubt, the London Cage, under the command of Lt. Col. Alexander Scotland, had been the scene of hideous events against members of the German Army as well as Nazi officers. What more could be said about it?

This past year, Helen Fry tackled the subject in a full-length book. The write-up sounded promising. An excerpt from the inside cover of the book jacket tell us that:
Until now, what has happened at the London Cage has remained a secret closely guarded by …

Bella in the Wych Elm - The Mysterious Anna from Claverley (a.k.a. Una Hainsworth)

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What would Sherlock Holmes do with the Bella in the Wych Elm case? Had he handled the case in 1943 when the body was first discovered, I am confident he would have used his exquisite powers of deduction to eliminate the impossible and identify the solution, no matter how improbable it seemed. Alas... Sherlock Holmes is a mere fictional character but... knowing his modus operandi, I would tend to think that he would have tracked down the facts of the case. But, at this point, almost 75 years after the discovery of Bella's skeleton in the Wych Elm, the facts of the case are clouded by rumours, innuendos, assumptions, fallacies, inaccuracies and errors. I am no Sherlock but... I do tend to find it most annoying when people ignore the obvious facts, add to the rumours or perpetuate the inaccuracies. Is the mystery of Bella solvable? Perhaps not... but I do believe that some theories can be explored in more detail with a view to determining if they are "impossible" or simply…

Book Review - Cargo of Lies: The True Story of a Nazi Double Agent in Canada - Dean Beeby (1995)

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The Book
Cargo of Lies: The True Story of a Nazi Double Agent in Canada. Dean Beeby. Toronto University Press, Toronto, 1995.

Summary
You know that saying, "Don't judge a book by its cover"? Well... that saying applies to this book! Looking at the cover, you might expect some semi-fictionalized fantastical pseudo-historical story but... the cover is misleading. Cargo of Lies is exquisitely well-researched and was a real pleasure to read.

Beeby, a Canadian journalist, managed to obtain the original police files on the case through Freedom of Information requests. Published in 1995, before the MI5 files were declassified, the book does have a few gaps, which the author freely acknowledges. A quick search on the National Archives website, however, reveals no files for the case. Interesting

As for the book itself, it tells the tale of two German espionage agents who were separately deposited on the coast of Canada from submarines in 1942.

Most of the book deals with Werner Alf…

Book Review - Airborne Espionage - David Oliver - 2005

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The Book
Airborne Espionage: International Special Duties Operations in the World Wars; David Oliver; The History Press; Stroud, Gloucestershire; 2005.

Summary
I came across this book last year and it has been on my "to-read" list for quite a while. Unfortunately, after reading several sections via Google Books, I have decided to take a pass on purchasing this book.

The book tells the tale of "Special Duties" air units that transported agents across enemy lines, both Allied and German. The focus does seem to lean more towards the air units than the espionage agents. I dug out the pieces on Josef Jakobs and Karel Richter, as those are the ones with which I am most familiar. They are, unfortunately, rife with errors and old information. The book was published in 2005, several years after the declassified MI5 files were released to the National Archives. It would appear, however, that the author is relying on pre-declassification information, much of which is inaccurat…