31 January 2020

Sharing the Tale of Josef Jakobs on Talk Radio Europe

Talk Radio Europe logo
A few weeks ago, Talk Radio Europe had me on their 10:30 am morning show. Given that they are in Spain and I'm on Canada's West Coast... I pried myself out of bed at 1:00 am to be moderately awake and coherent for the 1:30 am interview!

You can listen to the interview here...

Thanks to David Tremain for suggesting I chase down the opportunity to get on the TRE show!

And thanks to Wendy, Giles and the TRE crew who created a very smooth process...

27 January 2020

Branches of the Josef Jakobs Family Tree

Trier, Germany - origin of the Josef Jakobs clan
Trier, Germany - origin of the Josef Jakobs clan
Back in November, I received an intriguing Facebook message from a woman down on the east coast of the States. She said that her family name was spelt "Jakobs" as well and that her family had long circulated a story that one of their great-relatives was a spy for the Nazis. She had come across my book and website and thought... maybe we were related.

This was kind of a cool thought and it spurred a burst of activity from me on Ancestry. I hadn't worked on the Jakobs branch for a few years and... Ancestry has come a long way since then. I started tracking various Jakobs side-branches from my direct lineage, trying to trace a connection to the States. At the same time, I got a bit of information from the woman and began researching her tree upwards... trying to trace her forefathers who immigrated to the States from Germany.

At this point, I've traced her great-great grandfather as one Herman Frederick Jakobs who came to the States in the early 1890s - exact city/village/town in Germany still unknown... but we are working on digging up some more records.

At this point, however, drawing a link between Herman's tree and my tree is not likely:
  • Herman's branch is Protestant... my Jakobs branch is Catholic - and while there have been people who have crossed the lines from one to the other... it isn't likely
  • My Jakobs branch has no Herman's or Frederick's in it... and given how children were often named after previous ancestors... this makes a connection doubtful
  • DNA - I had Ancestry DNA done a few years ago and... so did the US woman's father... at this point, Ancestry says we have zero DNA in common
  • Herman would have been roughly the same generation as Josef Jakobs' father, Kaspar Jakobs. So even if there were a connection, it would have to be higher up the tree than Kaspar (as he had no Herman or Frederick siblings)
Jacobs/Jakobs is not that uncommon a name in Germany and it is quite likely that Herman Frederick originated from some other location. My branch of the Jakobs originated in Trier and I can trace them there until well into the 1500s. I've made contact with a few German Jakobs relations (4th cousins) but haven't found any evidence of them jumping the pond to North America.

There is always the possibility that Kaspar, Josef or my own father had a few extra-marital Jakobs children... and it remains to be seen if any of them ever emerge from the woodwork. There is also the mysterious nephew of Josef Jakobs, one Balthazar Jakobs, who was born in the mid-1920s and, according to family legend, died during the war. I haven't been able to confirm his death so... it is always possible that he survived the war...

22 January 2020

Book Review - Operation Fortitude - Joshua Levine (2011)

Cover - Operation Fortitude: the Story of the Spy Operation that Saved D-Day (Joshua Levine)
Cover - Operation Fortitude: the Story
of the Spy Operation that Saved D-Day
(Joshua Levine)
The Book
Operation Fortitude: The Story of the Spy Operation that Saved D-Day. Joshua Levine. Lyons Press. 2011.


In the lead-up to the D-Day landings in Normany, the Allies operated a number of plans designed to mislead the Germans as to the actual landing zone. The overall plan codenamed Operation Bodyguard had several sub-plans, one of which was Operation Fortitude (North and South). This plan was to convince the Germans that the Allies were planning landings in Norway and Pas de Calais. The Allies used a number of ploys, including their network of double agents, to pull the wool over the eyes of the Germans.

While the title might lead one to believe that the author will focus on the 1944 plan for Operation Fortitude, Levine helpfully begins much earlier, in 1940. In preparation for Operation Sealion, the Germans sent a number of poorly equipped agents to England with a view to sending back weather reports and other helpful information. The vast majority of these hapless agents were snapped up by the British and several were turned into double agents. Levine gives a very thorough and accurate history of these agents and how they played their own role in Operation Fortitude... convincing the Germans that they had active and useful spies in England.

I found this book to be eminently readable and very well researched. It provides a very accurate and comprehensive portrayal of the double cross system and was a pleasure to read.

Review Score
4.5 out of 5 - well researched and well written

17 January 2020

Book Review - Agent TATE: The Wartime Story of Harry Williamson - Tommy Jonason & Simon Olsson (2012)

Cover - Agent TATE: The Wartime Story of Harry Williamson
Cover - Agent TATE: The Wartime
Story of Harry Williamson
The Book
Agent TATE: The Wartime Story of Harry Williamson. Tommy Jonason and Simon Olsson. Amberley Publishing. 2012.

The story of double agent TATE (LEONHARDT to the Germans) is one of the classic tales of the British double cross system from the Second World War. One can read key snippets of his story in many books and journals:
  • How the ardent Nazi Wulf Schmidt parachuted into England in mid-September, hot on the heels of friend, and fellow spy, Gosta Caroli.
  • How Schmidt was quickly snatched up by the authorities after washing his swollen twisted ankle in the village fountain. 
  • How Schmidt proved stalwart in the face of MI5's top interrogator but eventually crumbled when he learned that Caroli had already spilled the beans.
  • How Schmidt would go on to become one of Britain's most prized double agents... and simultaneously, one of the German Abwehr's most prized agents (even to being awarded the Iron Cross).
The story is a fascinating one and two Swedish authors, Tommy Jonason and Simon Olsson brought all of the pieces together into a cohesive whole, published in 2012 by Amberley Press. One note: TATE's birth name was Wulf Schmidt and his assumed name in Britain was Harry Williamson. I shall refer to him as Schmidt as that is more common in espionage literature.

Jonason and Olsson's book is very readable and draws heavily from the declassified MI5 files at the National Archives. The authors provide a helpful context to the Operation LENA spies who were dispatched to England in the fall of 1940, all in preparation for Operation SEALION - the invasion of England.

The details of Schmidt's training by the German Abwehr is a familiar tale - poorly trained, poorly organized, poorly equipped and yet... despite the many disadvantages, the Germans seemingly bought the idea that Schmidt eluded capture and would manage to send signals undetected until shortly before the end of the war.

While the authors touch on Schmidt's request for more funds in early 1941, they don't spend a lot of time in examining the connection with Karel Richter, a suspected courier of funds and equipment to Schmidt. Specifically, the authors don't spend time delving into the story that Richter eventually admitted to his British interrogators -- that he had been sent to check up on Schmidt as the German handlers suspected he had been turned. Given the intimate connection between Richter and Schmidt in that regard, a bit more of emphasis on Richter would seem to have been warranted.

On another note, the section on Josef Jakobs has several minor errors which make the reader wonder if others are present elsewhere in the volume.

The authors do consider the question as to whether the Germans knew that Schmidt had been turned or not. The evidence is quite contradictory but the authors do a fair job of covering the different aspects.

Review Score
4 out of 5 - readable and fairly comprehensive

13 January 2020

Britain's Plans to Revamp the Treason Act

The Spy in the Tower (2019)
(available via Amazon)
Fellow author Tony Percy sent me a link a few weeks ago which piqued my interest. According to the latest Queen's Speech, given by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the UK is looking at updating the antiquated Treason Act (1351).

The UK recognizes that the Treason Act (and the Official Secrets Act (1911)) are rather antiquated and do not cover modern actions of individuals operating for hostile powers (e.g. cyber attacks). Despite several legal acts that cover terrorism and border security... there is still a recognized gap in prosecuting individuals who act with the intent to harm Britain. This is news indeed!

As I read the newspaper articles touching on the subject, I heard definite echos from the past - from 1940 in particular when Britain recognized that the Treason Act and Official Secrets Act did not cover the actions of operatives operating for hostile powers (e.g. spies for Germany). Britain's response at that time was to craft the Treachery Bill which passed into law in late May 1940 and was known as the Treachery Act. It was created in haste and was a rather draconian piece of legislation that had a rather broad net: anyone who did anything with "intent" to harm Britain and/or support Britain's enemies.

I've written about the Treachery Act and its implementation during the Second World War on this blog and in my book - The Spy in the Tower. As such, it was interesting to read a few snippets of what might be included in the proposed Espionage Bill...
A paper drawn up by the Policy Exchange think-tank last year suggested defining treason as “aiding a hostile state of organisation” with a new act of parliament.

The report set out a series of actions that could be deemed treason, including helping prepare or commit an attack on the UK, aiding the military or intelligence operations of a state or organisation intending to attack the UK or “prejudicing the security and defence of the UK”. (The Independent)
It is interesting to see the word "intending" as that was a key word in the Treachery Act as well - a word that casts a very wide net. Even in May 1940, several MPs noted that it was notoriously difficult to determine "intent" with any certainty. I will be following this story with keen interest to see what sort of language is eventually used.

Those interested in Britain's use of the Treachery Act (1940) can take a look at The Spy in the Tower. I also did a series of blogs a few years ago, but the book contains a more thorough look at the topic:
2014 07 14 - Josef Jakobs: A Victim of the Treachery Act, 1940 - Part 1
2014 07 18 - Josef Jakobs: A Victim of the Treachery Act, 1940 - Part 2
2014 07 23 - Josef Jakobs: A Victim of the Treachery Act, 1940 - Part 3
2014 08 06 - Josef Jakobs: A Victim of the Treachery Act, 1940 - Part 4

BBC - 2018 07 25 - Does the Treason Act need updating?
The Independent - 2019 05 20 - UK Treason Laws will be updated
Daily Mail - 2019 12 19 - UK Treason Laws to be updated

07 January 2020

Promoting The Spy in the Tower on TalkRadioEurope

TalkRadioEurope logo (from their website)
TalkRadioEurope logo (from their website)
The History Press kindly set up an interview for me with the crew at TalkRadioEurope - Spain's only English speaking talk radio network.

Fellow author David Tremain has done several excellent interviews with them, so I'm really looking forward to it!

For those interested... the interview is tomorrow, Wednesday January 8.

You can Listen Live using this link. The time of the interview is at:
10:30 am Central European Standard Time
9:30 am Greenwich Mean Time
4:30 am Eastern Standard Time
1:30 am Pacific Standard Time

Which means that I will need to roust myself out of bed at 1 am and hope that I can generate some coherent thoughts... I am most definitely NOT a night owl!

I believe the radio interview will be available after the fact, and when I have the link, I will add it to the bottom of this blog post.