Josef Jakobs

The details in this section deal with the case of Josef Jakobs; the last person to be executed at the Tower of London.


Josef Jakobs’ courts-martial was convened by Lieutenant-General Sir Bertram N. Sergison-Brooke, KCVO, CB, CMG, DSO, commanding London District. The trial was held at Duke of York’s HQ, Chelsea SW3, on 4th and 5th August 1941.

  • President: Major-General B.T. Wilson, CB, DSO.
  • Members: Brig. F.A.M. Browning, DSO, Col. E.W.S. Balfour, DSO, MBE, MC, Lieu-Col. H.H. Cripps, DSO, Maj. R.O.R. Kenyon-Slaney.
  • Waiting Members: Lieu-Col. E.D. Mackenzie, CMG, CVO, DSO, Maj. R.C. Alexander.
  • Advocate: C.L. Stirling, Esq, Deputy Judge Advocate General.
  • Prosecutor: Maj. A. Marlowe, Judge Advocate General’s Office.
  • Defending: Capt. E.B.E. White, Barrister at Law.
  • Interpreter: Lieut. W.J. Thomas.
  • Shorthand: 7653216 QMS. B.A. Balment, RAOC.

Josef Jakobs was charged with “Committing treachery in that you at Ramsay in Huntingdonshire on the night of 31 January 1941/1 February 1941 descended by parachute with intent to help the enemy.”

Josef Jakobs pleaded not guilty to the charge.

As the trial was held during the war, the entire trial was conducted in camera.

The 1st witness at the trial was Charles Baldock, who was signalled to by Jakobs firing his revolver in the air. Baldock went over to Jakobs who was lying on his back in the field at Dovehouse Farm, Ramsay Hollow. Baldock then sent his friend, who was walking with him, to fetch help while he remained with Jakobs. When cross-examined by the accused, Baldock stated that Jakobs was unable to move due to his injured leg.

The 2nd witness was Harry Coulson, who was walking with Charles Baldock when they were alerted by Jakobs shooting in the air. He then left Baldock with Jakobs, while he went to summon help from the local Home Guard.

The 3rd witness was James Harry Godfrey who was a farm labourer, and a member of the Ramsay Platoon Home Guard. When he was summoned by Coulson, he telephoned Ramsay Police Station. He then went with his commanding office, and Coulson, to the field at Dovehouse Farm. After binding Jakobs damaged right leg, he then search Jakobs with his commanding officer (Captain Newton), and his second-in-command (Lieutenant Curedale). They found between £400 and £500 in £1 notes. He also confirmed finding an attaché case (exhibit 6), a flying suit (exhibit 7) and a wallet (exhibit 8).

The 4th witness was Captain William Henry Newton, who was the Office Commanding Ramsay Company, Home Guard. He confirmed that he had been telephone by Ramsay Police, and then went to Dovehouse Farm, where Jakobs was lying on the ground in civilian clothes under his flying suit (exhibit 7). When asked by Newton who he was, Jakobs stated that he had flown solo from Luxembourg. Jakobs was then taken by a horse and cart to Ramsay Police Station, where he was handed over to the police. At the Police Station, in Newton’s presence, Jakobs opened his attaché case (exhibit 6) which contained a wireless set, headphones, batteries, insulating wire and some sheets of paper.

The 5th witness was Sergeant Ernest Pottle, who was an Acting-Sergeant in the Huntingdonshire County Constabulary at Ramsay. He explained that he had received a telephone call, and had gone to Dovehouse Farm. He had then travelled back with Jakobs, and the Home Guard, to the Police Station at Ramsay.

The 6th witness was Detective Sergeant Thomas Oliver Mills, Huntingdonshire County Constabulary, based at Huntingdon. He met Jakobs at Ramsay Police Station. He examined a map (exhibit 9) found with Jakobs, and he noticed that there were pencil marks on the map near a large R.A.F Station, and a satellite R.A.F Station. Both these R.A.F stations were near where Jakobs had landed in the field at Dovehouse Farm. Later on, Det. Sgt. Mills conveyed Jakobs to New Scotland Yard in London, where he was handed over to Major Robinson and Mr. Marriott.

The 7th witness was John Hayes Marriott, who was a civil Assistant attached to the General Staff of the War Office. He confirmed receiving Jakobs from Mills, together with the items (exhibits 2-15 and exhibit 18) found with Jakobs. He then handed these items over to Lieutenant-Colonel Hinchley Cooke. He also confirmed that the wireless found with Jakobs was capable of transmitting from England to the continent.

The 8th witness was Lieutenant-Colonel William Edward Hinchley Cooke, OBE, who was on the General Staff of the War Office. He confirmed receiving the items from Mr. Marriott.

On 18 June 1941, he questioned Jakobs at New Scotland Yard. Jakobs provided a statement in response to Cooke’s questions (exhibit 17). On 24 July 1941, at 6.20pm, at Wandsworth Prison, Cooke charged Jakobs under section 1 of the Treachery Act 1940. Cooke, who spoke German, explained to Jakobs the legal procedure that would now follow. He also explained that an interpreter and a legal representative would be provided for Jakobs use at the courts-martial. Jakobs then asked if he would be shot or hanged if found guilty at his trial. Cooke replied that he would be shot, as the trial was being conducted by a military court. Jakobs replied that the others had been hanged. Cooke confirmed this, stating that because their trials had been conducted by civilian courts, they had received the normal civilian sentence.

In his statement to Hinchley Cooke, Jakobs stated that he was born in Luxembourg on 30 June 1898 of German parents. He served in the 4th Foot Guards during World War One from August 1914 to December 1914, when he was discharged for medical reasons. He then served from October 1916 until the end of the war in November 1918, as a Lieutenant in the 4th Foot Guards. He was initially called up in June 1940, but was quickly discharged as there were doubts raised about his civil status, as he had been imprisoned in Switzerland from 1935 to 1937. He admitted to being an officer in the Intelligence Section of the German General Staff. Jakobs went on to say that he had flown from Schipol Airport, Holland, and had parachuted during the night of 31 January-1 February 1941. He was the only passenger on the plane (which had a crew of five), and was intending to be dropped in the Peterborough area. He broke his right ankle, when he was getting out of the plane. He was dragged through the exit hole in the floor of the plane, bashing his right ankle on the side of the exit hole.

He further damaged his right leg on landing, and summoned help by firing shots into the air.

The courts-martial found that Jakobs was guilty, and he was sentenced to death by shooting. He petitioned the King, stating that he was a friend of England, and that he had come to this county to help her in her fight against Nazi Germany. He asked to be held until the end of the war, when he would then be able to prove his innocence of the charge.

Following Jakobs conviction and sentencing, the Tower of London received a copy of the following letter:


To: The Constable of H.M. Tower of London. 13th August 1941.


I have the honour to acquaint you that JOSEF JAKOBS, an enemy alien, has been found guilty of an offence against the Treachery Act 1940 and has been sentenced to suffer death by being shot.

The said enemy alien has been attached to the Holding Battalion, Scots Guards for the purpose of punishment and the execution has been fixed to take place at H.M. Tower of London on Friday the 15th August 1941 at 7.15am.

Sgd. Sir Bertram N. Sergison-Brooke,

Lieutenant-General Commanding London District.

Ten days later, Jakobs was taken to the old miniature .22 rifle range in the Tower’s grounds, where the First World War spies had been shot, and placed in a brown Windsor chair (due to his damaged right leg) and a white lint target was then pinned on his chest over his heart. At 7.12am on 15 August 1941, an eight-man firing squad composed from members of The Holding Battalion, Scots Guards, shot Joseph Jakobs. The execution was witnessed by Lieutenant-Colonel C.R. Gerard, the Deputy Provost Marshal for the London District.

Later that day, a post-mortem was performed by Bernard Spilsbury. One shot had hit Jakobs in the head, the other seven had been around the target area. An inquest held that afternoon decided that Jakobs had died of “Injuries to the heart caused by the passage of bullets”, and the inquest verdict was “Execution of judicial sentence of death in accordance with military law”. Jakobs was then taken from The Tower of London, and was buried in a civilian grave at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cemetery, Kensal Green, Northwest London. The grave was not marked, and the area used for Jakob’s grave has since been re-used.

It is almost certain that Josef Jakobs will be the last person to be executed at the Tower of London. All the other people convicted and executed under the Treachery Act 1940, and the High Treason Act 1351, were hanged at either Wandsworth or Pentonville Prisons.