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German Spies executed at Pentonville Prison

The authorities display the radios carried by Waldberg and Meier. The German Abwehr had supplied them with radios that could transmit but not receive.

The first executions under the Treachery Act 1940 took place on 10th December 1940. Jose Waldberg, 25, a German national, and Karl Heinrich Meier, 24, a Dutchman of German origin were hanged at Pentonville Prison, following their conviction at the Old Bailey in November.

Waldberg and Meier had landed at by rowing boat at Dungeness on the Kent coast on the 3rd September 1940. They had been escorted across the Channel and only had to row the last distance up to the shore.

It was intended that they would pose as refugees and move around the country reporting on British troop movements and military installations. They had a substantial amount of cash that was supposed to sustain them until the German invasion, which they were told was to be on the 15th September. They would then make themselves known to the Germans with a secret password.

They did not get far. Meier was apprehended when he tried to get into conversation with an ARP warden who promptly asked for his Identity Card. When Meier said “we have only just arrived” he not only aroused further suspicion but gave away the fact that he was not alone. The police were called. After a short interrogation he led them to Waldberg.

The “German spy Jose Waldberg” hanged on 10th December 1940. In fact he was probably Belgian Henri Lassudry, who had been coerced into spying by the Germans after being caught smuggling. He apparently did not attempt the defence of coercion at his trial, unlike fellow defendant Pons. Also he did not reveal his true identity until after his conviction, although it was clear that he spoke French much better than German.


Two others German spies who arrived further along the coast the same day got no further. Kieboom and Pons were seen landing, and the police were called when they asked locals where they were. Kieboom was executed a week after the other two. Pons was able to successfully argue that he had been coerced into the role, having been threatened with a concentration camp by the Germans, and had always intended to give himself up.

N.B. Further investigation has found at least three different versions of how these spies came to be caught. The authorities gave the case as much publicity as they could but there were limited facts to go on, because the trial had been held in camera at the Old Bailey. The Press filled in the gaps with details of how the men gave themselves away or were discovered, and these different versions have found their way into different published post-war accounts.

The publicity given to the case was probably intended to divert German attention away from other spies who had been caught. These cases were handled secretly because it was hoped to maintain the pretence that they were still at large and use them to feed false information back to the Germans. As the war progressed the British were able to developed a very sophisticated method – ‘the double cross system – for doing just this. The credibility of these individuals was enhanced if the the Germans were led to believe that all captured spies would be put on trial and the information made public.

For absolutely everything you might want to know about military radios from the period, including a wide range of spy radios, see the Military Wireless Museum..

5 thoughts on “German Spies executed at Pentonville Prison”

  1. Nowhere does it say the Germans were charged with treason, they were charged under the Treachery Act.

  2. @Brian, but they tried to hide their true motivs, pretend refugees. That was an execution on every side of the conflict. If they wore uniforms, they’d be legit POW.

  3. They had not committed treason as they were Germans and they were acting for their country; that they were spies for Germany therefore doesn’t make them guilty of treason; but guilty of spying for the enemy of Great Britain,

  4. The unit is an S88/5 transmitter, single valve, running off batteries, shortwave, the typical ‘camera’ cases behind are what the set and other items were sent in. Manufactured Stahnsdorf, 1938-40, used by OKW Amt Ausland/Abwehr. Small square oblong item in hand is Morse key.

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