The Tower of London was built by William the Conqueror during the 1070’s and later became infamous as a prison, a place of torture and execution under the Tudors and is now a popular tourist attraction noted for housing the Crown Jewels, but it is not widely known for the execution of German spies.
In November 1914, German agent Carl Lody was using the cover name Charles Inglis when he was arrested in Edinburgh for sending information to Germany on British warships and became the first person for more than 150 years to be executed at the Tower of London.
A Yeoman Warden named John Fraser who saw Lody being taken to his execution in a purpose-built indoor firing range later wrote:
“The prisoner walked steadily, stiffly upright through the doorway, and yet as easily and unconcerned as though he were going to a tea party instead of death… The procession disappeared through the doorway of the sinister shed and shortly after came the muddles sound of a single volley – Carl Lody had paid for his crime”
During the First World War eleven German spies were executed at the Tower of London, but surprisingly some were not German nationals and included Latvians, two Dutchmen, a Swede, a Turk and three South Americans who decided to work for German intelligence.
Another Yeoman Warden named Kevin Kitcher explained:
There would have been a chair there… The prisoner would have been sat down either with bandages or leather straps binding him to the chair. A bandage would have been put over the eyes, and shortly after that the execution would take place. After the execution the spies were buried in Plaistow cemetery in Newham. London.”
A twelfth spy named Robert Rosenthal was hanged at Wandsworth Prison on 15 July 1915.
World War Two
Josef Jakpobs was the last person to be executed at the Tower of London.
During the Second World War MI5 was running Operation Double Cross which mainly consisted of German spies who were turned after being captured and were passing false information to Berlin, and through this deception MI5 was aware Jakpobs was being sent to England.
On the night of 31 October 1941, Jakpobs parachuted onto a field near Dover House Farm in Ramsey Huntingdonshire, a district in Cambridgeshire, and broke his leg after landing badly and was quickly spotted by a farmer and was arrested by the Home Guard who also recovered his wireless transmitter.
He was then taken to Ramsey police station where he was found to have £500, false identity papers and a photograph of a woman calling herself Clare Bauerle who was also a German agent he had planned to meet at an address in Birmingham. Jakpobs was then transferred to Cannon Row police station in London where he was interrogated by MI5 officers.
On 4-5 August 1941 Jacobs was tried at the Duke of York’s army headquarters in Chelsea, London and sentenced for espionage.
Chair used during the execution of German spy Josef Jackpods
On 15 August 1941 at 0700 hrs Josef Jakobs was taken to the indoor firing range at the Tower of London, the same range used for the execution of eleven German agents during World War One, he was then strapped to a brown coloured Windsor chair before being shot by an eight-man firing squad from the Scots Guards. His body was then buried in an unmarked grave at St Mary’s Catholic Church in Kensal Green, London.
Additional reading, Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies by Ben Macintyre