Book Review - Airborne Espionage - David Oliver - 2005

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

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 inaccurate.

The propagation of the inaccuracies is one thing, but there are also spelling and continuity errors that annoy the reader. Below is the section on Karel Richter, transcribed from Google Books.

While 'Z' Flight was starting its clandestine operations in the Mediterranean, other German agents were continuing to be parachuted into England. SS Oberst [not sure where the author got this information, I have never come across an references that indicated Karl was a Colonel in the S.S.] Karl Richard Richter [His name is Karel, not Karl.] was dropped by a Kommando Rowehl [this would have been the German Luftwaffe unit that dropped the spies. I have only ever heard of Karl Gartenfeld.] He 111 from Chartres [Richter was sent from Schipol aerodrome near Amsterdarm] on 14 May [he actually landed on May 12] and landed near Tyttenhangar Park in Hertfordshire [I have not come across any references that mention this name], close to Salisbury Hall at London Colney where the ultra-secret prototype DH Mosquito was being built. A local reserve constable found him in a telephone booth, after a lorry driver had reported that he had been stopped by a man who had asked him directions in a foreign accent [nope, the lorry driver asked for directions and got suspicious when he got only mumbles in response]. Constable Alex Scott was shown an Alien's Registration Card in the name of Fred Snyder [actually, Richter showed him both the Alien's Registration Card and his passport] and suggested that the man accompany him to the police station, as it was approaching 2300 hours, when all aliens were required to be at their registered addresses.

Twenty-nine year old Snyder was searched at the police station and found to be carrying a Swedish passport [no, it was always a Czech passport] in the name of Karl Richter. MI5 was alerted and the next day Richter was taken to Hatfield police station to be interviewed by several MI5 officers, including Col. Stephens [No, Stephens never came to Hatfield - that was Dixon and Robertson. Richter was taken to Camp 020 where he was questioned by Stephens]. He soon caved in [Both Stephens and Sampson note that Richter was one of the most obstinate agents to pass through their hands and was only broken with the assistance of Josef Jakobs. This took several days.], admitted his real name and offered to show them where he had hidden his parachute and other items. Accompanied by policemen and MI5 personnel, Richter took them to the hedge in Tyttenhangar Park [not in Tyttenhangar Park]. Apart from the parachute they found a loaded Mauser pistol [Browning pistol, not Mauser], a quantity of money, documents, a wireless transmitter, batteries [I believe he was to buy batteries in England] and some spare valves. Also a Czech passport [correct, but was this in addition to the Swedish passport mentioned above, or is this just a continuity error?] in the name of Karl Richter was discovered. His story was that he had been trying to make his way to the United States, but was captured in Sweden and deported to Germany, where he was recruited by the Abwehr and sent to England as a courier. The tall, thin, red-headed Richter was tried at the Old Bailey on 21 October 1941 and executed at Wandsworth Prison on 10 December, without ever having revealed the true nature of his mission. [He did reveal his mission - deliver money to TATE and check up on his integrity.]

The section on Josef Jakobs follows:

While dedicated air support for SOE was slowly expanding, the insertion of German agents into the British Isles had virtually ground to a halt. [There were a slew of them deposited in the UK in the Fall of 1940.] Since the outbreak of war, this had been the responsibility of the Aufklärungsgruppe der Oberbefehlshaber der Luftwaffe, a reconnaissance wing equipped with Dornier Do17s, Do 215s and He 111s. It was commanded by Oberstleutnant Theodor Rowehl, who was the Luftwaffe's equivalent of Sidney Cotton. His Gruppe which became known as the Kommando Rowehl, [again, I've only heard of the Gartenfeld group] dropped one of the few German agents into England in 1941, Josef Jakobs.

On the morning of 1 February two farm workers near Ramsey, in Huntingdonshire, heard a shot. [Several shots] They dropped to the ground. [They remained standing.] Earlier they had heard a low-flying aircraft [maybe during the night, although this is never mentioned in the files] and had recognised the distinctive desynchronized engine sounds peculiar to German twin-engine bombers. Another shot [several shots] rang out and a figure was spotted lying in a field nearby. As they approached, the man began to wave but remained lying down, obviously injured. When challenged he said he was a parachutist from Germany, had hurt his leg on landing and had fired his gun to attract help. Harry Coulson volunteered to stay with him [Charles Baldock stayed, Coulson went for help] while his friend went for help. The man told him that he was from Luxembourg and that under his Luftwaffe flying suit he was wearing civilian clothes, a smart suit of Continental cut, as was the felt hat which lay nearby. [It was on his head.] While  looking through the man's pockets [he did no such thing] Coulson found an identity card in the name of George Rymer [James Rymer] and an unused ration book; both proved to be forged. [These were only found when the Home Guard officers arrived and Josef was searched under their supervision.]

Coulson soon led a policeman and a member of the Home Guard to the field [Not sure how he could have done this since, according to the author, he had stayed with Josef. No mention of Harry Godfrey. A policeman did not accompany the Home Guard officers.] and the German was taken to the police station on a farm cart, along with his suitcase containing a wireless transmitter and batteries. At Ramsey police station the German was thoroughly searched; £500 in sterling banknotes was discovered, along with other items that indicated he was certainly not a refugee. He was taken to MI5s Camp 020 [actually Cannon Row Police Station, then Brixton Prison Infirmary, then an afternoon at Camp 020, then several weeks at Dulwich Hospital, then Camp 020 for a few hours, then Brixton Prison Infirmary, then Camp 020 for several months], where he told Col Stephens that his name was Josef Jakobs [he told this to the Ramsey police too], born in Luxembourg on 30 June 1898 and, although well over service age, he had been called up by the Wehrmacht as he had been on the reserve lists. In September 1940 he was transferred to the Abwehr for training in receiving and sending Morse code. Moved to Holland early the following year, Jakobs awaited news of a mission. He told his interrogators that all he had wanted to do was to get to England and contact the Jews, so as to organise a resistance movement against the Nazis. [He told them a number of stories at various points. This was not his initial story in early February.]

He was committed for trial as a spy, but as a member of the German Army he was entitled to a military hearing [court martial], which took place the Duke of York's Headquarters in Chelsea. The hearing [court martial] lasted two days; Jakobs was found guilty of espionage and sentenced to death. In his defence he mentioned that a Dr. Burgos had suggested he join the Abwehr as an agent for a secret Jewish society, but had not given him any further details. As his story could not be substantiated, the verdict stood. Josef Jakobs was taken to the Tower of London, where he was incarcerated in a cell at Waterloo Barracks [No, he was held at Wandsworth Prison until the morning of his execution.] while his appeal was heard by HM King George VI. It was unsuccessful, and on 14 August, [15 August] Jakobs was taken out to the small courtyard [rifle range] and seated in a chair, blindfolded, to face a firing squad. He was the only spy to be executed at the Tower during the Second World War.

I haven't read this entire book. I did have a glance at some of the other spy cases - Wulf Schmidt, Gosta Caroli and Kurt Karl Goose (sometimes called Hans Reysen). They are similarly a mixture of fact and inaccuracies. The author seems to have focused more on the airborne aspects of World War 2, and he apparently relied on second-hand sources rather than checking the declassified MI5 files.

I cannot speak to the accuracy of the airborne sections other than to note that I have never heard of Kommando Rowehl in connection with the insertion of spies into England, only of Karl Gartenfeld. I searched for information on Kommando Rowehl and the German Wikipedia would seem to indicate that Rowehl primarily flew aerial reconnaissance (aerial photography) missions against the Soviet Union between 1939 and June 1941. A forum on AxisHistory notes that Rowehl also flew reconnaissance over Bulgaria, Egypt, Syria, the Caucasus and possibly high-altitude missions over Britain in July 1940. The forum contributers reference another book - KG200 - The Luftwaffe's Most Secret Unit by  Barry Ketley and Geoffrey J. Thomas - which looks interesting. A HistoryNet post also speaks of KG 200 and does note that Gartenfeld's unit was, up until 1942, part of Kommando Rowehl.Given a choice, I rather think I would read the KG 200 book than Airborne Espionage.


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