1820: Amasa Fuller, the Indiana hero 1527: Leonhard Kaiser, Lutheran

1941: Josef Jakobs, the last executed in the Tower of London

August 15th, 2012 Headsman

In its day, the Tower of London has seen off with many an illustrious head.*

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.

After a secret trial under the Treachery Act of 1940, Jakobs was shot at a small rifle range where a number of his countrymen and predecessors from the First World War had met their own ends.

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.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,Germany,History,Milestones,Shot,Soldiers,Spies,Wartime Executions

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18 thoughts on “1941: Josef Jakobs, the last executed in the Tower of London”

  1. Constantinos says:

    In early 1070s I read in a Greek newspaper that German spies arrested during 2nd World war in England could be trained and sent back to Germany as English agents. Agent “Jacobs” was assessed not to have the “psychological” strength for this role, so he was executed. The newspaper did not mention details of execution, but reported a few German spies successfully “converted”, one of them received a medal from the Intelligent Service.
    I kept the case in memory, and searched the web for it just now.

    1. Constantinos Kalaitzoglou says:

      Apparent error in my previous message: 1970s (not 1070s), sorry.

  2. jim evans says:

    Josef Jacobs was part of a very big picture, (not regards spying) that was a cover up, and a deception to prevent a major secret form being aired; That secret remains today however after 14 years of research and investigation a happening that surpasses HITLER and the NAZIS the public view to fight the second world war, the real fight in ww2 was not the military one BUT a deep and dark political secret that is linked to OPERATION ARIEL, OPERATION CYCLE and the 51st highlanders in St Valery

  3. Giselle says:

    Edward Watling, several other officers guarded Josef as well. You can contact me through my website if you’d like.

  4. Edward Watling says:

    My father was in the prison service in the Tower of London and had to look after Josef Jakobs and sat with him in his cell waiting for the news of his execution , They played cards to pass the time away and He also escorted him to the place where he was shot, My mother told about this after my dad had passed away , I would like to know if this could be verified if that is possible.

  5. chris y says:

    If Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex and Lord Great Chamberlain, and the Duke of Monmouth, nephew of the king weren’t high ranking enough to get the chop in the Tower itself, you wonder what you had to do to deserve the honour.

    1. R says:

      ( marry King Henry VIII )

  6. Meaghan says:

    Technically, a lynching doesn’t have to be a hanging, even if most of them all. The legal definition is “Putting a person to death by mob action without due process of law.”

    But this “putting to death” was perfectly legal. The laws of war say a country may execute spies caught on their territory, even ones as pathetic as Mr. Jakobs was. Yes, he could have been given a sentence of imprisonment instead, but the UK had a perfect right to shoot him.

  7. KYGB says:

    It was NOT a lynching. He wasn’t hung, he was shot. (See narrative above)

  8. Don says:

    He was hung because he was a Nazi…and we were at war with them. Simple as that. Perfectly legal and not at all a lynching. He got what he deserved.

  9. Fiz says:

    Legal lying1 What a load of rubbish! Judicial hanging is far away from this. Do try not to make an ass of yourself in your haste to judge other countries.

  10. Steve O'Rourke says:

    Treason can only be committed by someone native to the country betrayed. Since Jakobs’ mission was a major FAIL, a nonstarter; imprisonment should have been enough. I suspect a legal lynching was ordered.

    1. Douglas Israel says:

      Spies during wartime are subject to summary execution. It has always been so. The United States executed 4 German spies it caught off the coast of Long Island during the war.

  11. Meaghan says:

    I’m with Fiz on this one.

  12. Fiz says:

    It was war time and treason. Think about it!

    1. Jame B says:

      I always thought that treason involved only nationals – clearly not under the treason act 1940

  13. Steve O'Rourke says:

    Shot for jumping out of an airplane and breaking his ankle? Seems a bit harsh to me…

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