11 April 1916 – Ludovico Zender

It was always going to be a weird set-up – a Peruvian of Scandinavian descent who spoke English and French, spying for the Germans in World War I. So it’ll come as no surprised that sardines were the downfall of one Ludovico Zender in 1916.

Something fishy

He first came over to Scotland via Oslo and Copenhagen, keen to cash in on the war by trading in food and paper among other things. How Zender became embroiled with the Germans remains a mystery. What alerted the Brits were the fishy telegrams he sent to an address in Oslo. It was a dodgy address that the British knew had strong links with the German intelligence agency.

Turns out he was trafficking details of shipments to the Germans under the guise of tinned fish. The Germans helped their spy by provided what turned out to be the most pitiful of cover stories that he was shipping tinned sardines to Peru. Of course, the Brits saw through the scam and, understanding the scale of his operation, they tailed him.

In the can

He had no idea they were on to him, so it was pure luck that Zender slipped through their net by sailing for Bergen on the very day they turned up on his doorstep at 59 Union Street in Glasgow to arrest him. But they knew he’d be back and sure enough, a couple of months later he docked at Newcastle and they swiftly reeled him in.

Incriminating receipts during his travels charted his activity right to the heart of Germany, but the clincher was that it was simply the wrong season for sardines. He was court-martialled and details of his telegrams were revealed to actually be information charting shipments from key posts in Britain.
Zender was clearly out of his depth, nevertheless he pleaded not guilty, but to no avail. He was sentenced to death by firing squad and despite his appeal and one from the Peruvian Embassy, he was shot at the Tower of London for treason by the 3rd Battalion Scots Guards.

Prisoner Zender

Some erroneously credit Zender with being the last man to be executed at the Tower of London. However, that dubious honour is reserved for Corporal Josef Jakobs, who was executed on 15 August 1940.

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