The Venlo Incident

In the Dutch border town of Venlo, on the afternoon of 9th November 1939, two British and one Dutch intelligence officers were kidnapped by the German Security Service. Captain Payne Best and Major Stevens believed they were meeting with representatives of a group of German Generals willing to oust the Nazis in a coup d'état and negotiate a peace settlement with the Allies. Instead they had been lured into a trap by their German opposite numbers. The meeting was arranged to take place at the Café Backus located between the Dutch and German borders but as the three intelligence officers arrived, they were fired upon and the Dutch officer Lieutenant Dirk Klop fatally wounded. They were then forcibly taken across the border into Germany.

New Foreign Office files on what is known as 'the Venlo Incident' were released to the British National Archives on Thursday, 23 May 2013. One file shows SIS's confusion about what had happened and for how long had they been duped. Below is a summary of events as SIS in London understood the facts to be up to the time they received the final message from the "German Generals" at 6 p.m. on 22 November, 1939. The final message read:

"Corresponding with conceited and foolish people becomes boring in the long run. You will understand our breaking off relations. Best wishes from your good friends the German Opposition."

Signed German Secret Police.

 

SUMMARY OF EVENTS

Contact with the "German Generals" (if indeed this is a correct description) seems to have been first established on October 17th by our Passport Control Officer in The Hague. Communication was at first conducted by telephone with Colonel Teichmann (said to be representing Generals Wiedersheim and Rundstedt). The Colonel said, briefly, that the Army were keen on peace and were defending themselves against the Gestapo; that they disapproved of Ribbentrop's policy; and that only a small push was needed to upset the Nazi regime.

2. On the following day the Passport Control Officer was told by his superiors that he could tell these intermediaries that a new situation would be created if their coup d'état succeeded; that the Allies had no desire to wage a vindictive war; and that the overthrow of the Nazi regime, real autonomy for the Czechs and the restoration of Poland probably represented the minimum terms of His Majesty's Government.

3. On October 20th we heard that the meeting had been postponed till October 21st since Wiedersheim had been summoned to Berlin. He had, however, requested (apparently by telephone) that we should not negotiate with either Ribbentrop or Goering but only with him.

4. On October 23rd we were informed that the General had not come in person to the meeting but had sent Colonel von Seydlitz and Colonel Teichmann. The latter had said that our terms were accepted as a basis for negotiation with Wiedersheim himself, who would "probably" come over on October 24th. Emphasis was laid on the desirability of retaining Hitler as a figure head and of our not negotiating with anybody else. The Passport Control Officer then delivered the message referred to in (2) above. A long and inconclusive discussion followed.

5. The sense of this discussion was conveyed to His Majesty's Government who authorised the despatch of a further message on October 25th. The text of this is given at Flag A.

6. On October 27th we learnt that General Wiedersheim was finally coming over on October 28th with "concrete proposals" and proposed to stay in The Hague for 24 hours. Again he did not do so; but on October 30th we heard that the German "delegation" had made a declaration and promised "details of their Party in the near future". This declaration was much more definite than the previous feelers. It is given at Flag B.

7. In commenting on this declaration the Passport Control Officer said that "German delegates" consisted of a Colonel from the General Staff (presumably Teichmann), "an official from Permanent Secretariat German Foreign Office" and "Officer who visited us before". They would not disclose identity of leader of their movement but admitted that Wiedersheim and Rundstedt were members and added "and many more like them". Further the impressions of the Passport Control Officer were that the Germans "appeared to realise that the game was lost" and were trying "to start peace negotiations with minimum loss of prestige". If the Allies granted an armistice in these circumstances the Wehrmacht would not be able to begin hostilities again and the Allies could then dictate terms. It was at this meeting that the Passport Control Officer with the approval of his Chief, handed to the Germans a wireless set and a cypher.

8. On November 3rd, having had no reply, the Germans wirelessed to the Passport Control Officer that they had "reached agreement on points raised and on reply received from London" (see paragraph 5 above). They requested views of His Majesty's Government regarding persons acceptable to conduct negotiations.

9. The considered views of His Majesty's Government, which had been submitted to the War Cabinet for approval, were accordingly sent to The Hague on November 6th. They will be found at Flag C. Monsieur Corbin was informed of the main lines of this communication on the following day.

10. The message seems to have crossed one from The Hague despatched on November 7th, which stated that "Coup d'état will be definitely attempted, probably a week or ten days hence according to circumstances". General Wiedersheim, it went on to Bay, would "probably" meet our representatives on November 8th "to form personal opinion of our bona fides and to give further details". The last message we had from the Passport Control Officer was on November 9th by telephone. He then said that "the big man" had not been able to come on the previous day but was expected that afternoon. At 4 p.m. on November 9th (as we now know) he and his companion were ambushed at Venlo. Since then there has been no direct news of him. The bomb explosion at Munich took place at 9.10 p.m. on November 8th.

11. There followed a pause which lasted till November 13th. Late in the evening of that day the operator in The Hague picked up a message from the Generals which read as follows:-

"Two of our agents disappeared, presumably arrested, work rendered very difficult. When may we expect proposals of which you notified us? What news of you?

To this 'C' replied (November 14th - 10 a.m.) "One of our representatives was foully murdered and the other kidnapped on the Dutch side of the frontier on Thursday evening. Have you any explanation? What happened to your delegates?"

In the evening of the same day the Germans replied as follows: "We must take into account the possibility of arrest. No special measures have been observed as yet. It appears doubly necessary to enter into negotiations for which we still lack the agenda which it was stated would be sent. Nothing has been heard as yet of the kidnapping which was announced from there. We request further instructions without delay. We may come to an understanding".

As it seemed evident from this that they had not received our message of November 6th (see paragraph 9) a condensed version of it was sent by wireless on November 16th, and on November 17th the Prime Minister confided all the relevant facts to Monsieur Daladier.

12. In the evening of November 17th a final message was received from the Germans (see Flag D). Our proposed reply to this message was to have been submitted to the Cabinet for approval this morning.

22 November 1939

[Source: TNA FO 1093/200, transcribed by www.arcre.com]