This top secret mission kept the Nazis from getting Amsterdam's diamonds

When Germany began its assault on Holland on May 10, 1940, the international community was not just worried about the lives of the Dutch people but also about the massive stocks of industrial diamonds in Amsterdam.

1200px-Duitse_parachutisten_landen_in_Nederland_op_10_mei_1940b

The German invasion of Holland featured the use of paratroopers in costumes and Dutch uniforms. Photo: Dutch National Archives via Wikipedia

Industrial diamonds were used for many manufacturing purposes and the country that controlled the diamonds could create more weapons, vehicles, and sophisticated technology like radar.

That’s why two diamond traders in England, Jan Smit and Walter Keyser, offered their services to the British government. Jan’s father ran a large trading interest in Amsterdam and was friends with many more traders. Smit was certain that if he were allowed passage into and out of Amsterdam, he could get many diamonds out before the Nazis could seize them.

Approval for the mission went all the way to the new prime minister Winston Churchill himself. Churchill ordered a military officer to escort the two men and granted them the use of an old World War I destroyer, the HMS Walpole, to get them into the city. The Walpole had to thread a mile gap between German and British minefields at night under blackout conditions to get across the English Channel.

HMS-Walpole-world-war-destroyer

The HMS Walpole Photo: Royal Navy

During the transit, the Walpole almost struck another British ship sneaking through the darkness. Those on the Walpole would learn years later that the other ship was evacuating members of the Dutch Royal family.

Keyser and Smit arrived in the harbor just before daybreak and spent the day working with Smit’s father to convince traders to release the diamonds to the Keyser and Smit. From their landing at the docks to their trips around the city, the men were driven by a Jewish woman, Anna, who protected them from possible German spies.

Throughout the men’s day in Amsterdam, Dutch police and soldiers were attempting to root out pockets of German paratroopers wreaking havoc in the city. Across the country, German forces were quickly taking over and quashing resistance. Gunfire interrupted a few of their meetings.

The Germans made quick progress and occupied the entire country within five days. Photo: German Army Archives via Wikipedia

The Germans made quick progress and occupied the entire country within five days. Photo: German Army Archives via Wikipedia

Many of the diamond traders were Jewish and could have bribed their way out of the country with their stocks and possibly escaped the Holocaust. Instead, they took the chance to get them away from German hands. Most of the traders even refused receipts out of fear that the Germans would learn how many diamonds they had prevented the Third Reich from getting their hands on.

While the men gave many of their diamonds to the English agents, the attack had come during a bank weekend and many were in safes that couldn’t be opened for another day or more.

1200px-Vickers_anvil_diamons

Industrial diamonds are used in tools and manufacturing equipment because of their how hard they are. Photo: R. Tanaka CC BY 3.0 via Wikipedia

Luckily another British agent, Lt. Col. Montagu R. Chidson, made his way to the massive vault at the Amsterdam Mart and spent hours breaking into it, even as German paratroopers forced their way into the building. He escaped with the diamonds as the soldiers forced their way down the stairs.

At the end of the day, Chidson escaped on his own while Anna rushed Smit, Keyser, and their military escort back to the docks just in time to rendezvous with the HMS Walpole. Smit carried a thick canvas bag filled with the diamonds and forced a tug driver at gunpoint to take them to the British destroyer.

Chidson’s diamonds made their way to Queen Wilhelmina while the diamonds recovered by Smit and Keyser were held in London for the duration of the war.

(h/t David E. Walker for his 1955 book, “Adventure In Diamonds” where he recounts much of the first-hand testimony of the men who took part in the operations to recover diamonds ahead of the Nazi advance).

TOP ARTICLES
SpaceX launching a third top-secret satellite

SpaceX is launching a secretive mission this month. The mission, shrouded in secrecy, has some considering it may be for the CIA or the NSA.

This is how the Air Force will use prop planes on high-tech battlefields

The Air Force is looking toward a light-attack aircraft program, known as OA-X, to produce a plane that meets its needs and gets the job done.

A retired SEAL commander on how to stop thinking and 'get after it' every day

This former Navy commander has some excellent advice on how to jump start your day, and "get some" in order to make it as productive as possible.

Marines return to battle in 'old stomping grounds'

The Marines recall their "old stomping grounds" as they return to Fallujah and the surround areas of Al Anbar Province to battle a new enemy.

How Chinese drones are set to swarm the global market

China has stepped up it's drone game, and even though United States technology can still compete, China's drones are kind of really in demand.

That time two countries' Special Forces squared off in combat

In an area the size of the Falkland Islands, British and Argentine special operators were bound to run into each other at some point – a lot.

5 times pilots got in trouble for having fun in the sky

When pilots decide to do some fancy flying in their high-performance fighters, it can land them in trouble once they're back on the ground.

This is why Nazis dubbed these paratroopers 'devils in baggy pants'

"American paratroopers – devils in baggy pants – are less than 100 meters from my outpost line. I can’t sleep at night," wrote one German commander.

9 ISIS weapon fails that you have to see to believe

Many bad guys just want record themselves laying rounds down range for social media purposes — and we're glad they did. Laugh away, America!

US Army recruitment campaigns, ranked from worst to best

Advertising can really impact recruitment for the military. For better or for worse, here are some of the Army's most memorable slogans...