Its last use as an execution grounds occurred, all but invisibly, on this date in 1941, with the shooting of German spy Josef Jakobs.
It’s safe to say that Jakobs won’t be competing with Anne Boleyn in the book sales department any time soon. He was, truth be told, barely a spy at all: parachuted into Huntingdonshire on January 31, 1941 with intent to reconnoiter, the guy was observed in his descent by (undoubtedly excited) local defense volunteers. They raced to the landing point but needn’t have: Jakobs was practically immobile, having broken his ankle upon landing. So that was the end of the espionage mission.
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.
The Royal Armouries artefacts store still preserves the chair (pdf) Jakobs was strapped to for this historic execution. All subsequent executions of World War II spies took place by hanging at Pentonville Prison or Wandsworth Prison.
* It should be added that the Tower’s bloody reputation correctly associates more with the doomed men and women it held than with actual executions: only a very few, mostly high-ranking, folk actually got the chop in the Tower prior to 20th century spies: people such as Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, and Monmouth were more commonly put to death at the adjacent (and public) Tower Hill.