Famous Lasts The Last Execution in the Tower of London

About the last execution in the Tower of London in 1941, history and information.


The last execution in the Tower of London took place on Thursday, Aug. 14, 1941, when Josef Jakobs, a German spy, was shot by an eight-man firing squad.

Jakobs, a German national, was born in Luxembourg on June 30, 1898. During W.W. II, he joined the meteorological service of the German army and rose to the rank of sergeant. On a secret mission, he was parachuted into a wooded area of Stifford in Essex County, England, on the night of Jan. 31, 1941. His luckless spying career ended before it began. He was spotted floating to earth by members of the local Home Guard, who rushed to his landing spot only to find him hobbling on a broken ankle. He was arrested, still in his flying suit, carrying a wireless transmitter, brandy, British currency, forged identity papers, a spade for burying his chute, and a cold German sausage.

He was taken to Brixton Prison in London, where he was interrogated by counterintelligence officers to see if he could be turned into a double agent. Since he was a dedicated Nazi, they decided no military use could be made of him. He was given a military court-martial and sentenced to death, despite the fact that he had not actually committed espionage.

The other 15 German spies executed in Great Britain during W.W. II (two of them were British subjects) were hanged in civil prisons, but for unspecified reasons Jakobs was taken to the forbidding Tower of London. There he was confined in a small cell in the Waterloo Barracks, where the crown jewels are now housed.

He steadfastly refused to see a priest, even during the last moments. At 7:00 A.M., he hobbled over to the miniature rifle range then situated on the east side of the inner wall between the Broad Arrow and Constable Towers. (It has since been demolished, and the site is now occupied by a prefabricated office building.)

Because his ankle made it difficult for him to stand up straight and steady, he was seated in an old Windsor chair and tied up. The eight-man firing squad from the Scots Guards aimed at a piece of white lint pinned over his heart. Five of the eight shots pierced the lint at precisely 7:12 A.M. Jakob's body was taken to the old mortuary situated under the north approach road to Tower Bridge (it is now a boiler room). He was buried in St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery in Kensal Green in an area which has since been covered with 6 ft. of earth to make room for new graves. The death chair remains in the Tower, though it is not on public view. Jakobs's cell is now used to store film.

While people remember the name of Jakobs's famous superior, Rudolf Hess--the last man to be imprisoned in the Tower--Jakobs himself has long since been forgotten.

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