When three British agents stole Amsterdam’s diamond reserves in the face of the German invasion

In 1959 London hosted the premiere of one of those films about the Second World War that were so abundant in the decades after it.

Of British production, it was titled operation amsterdam (here in Spain it was changed to The Robbery of the Century) and was directed by Michael McCarthy, a minor filmmaker who perhaps signed his best work with it.

Starring Peter Finch, it is the adaptation of the book by David Walker Adventure in diamondswhich narrates a little-known episode that occurred during the German invasion of the Netherlands: an operation to take the diamonds that was in the Dutch capital before the enemy did.

movie poster

In the film, those in charge of carrying out the mission are a gem expert, a secret service agent and an army major.

The three corresponded to the trio that really starred in the events: william woltmanan expert Dutch gemologist based in England; Jan Smiths Korfamous diamond dealer, and Montague Reany Chidsonalias Montyartillery lieutenant colonel who was in command of the operation.

Monty had fought as airman in World War I, in which he was taken prisoner and returned a hero. In 1940, already forty-eight years old, he enjoyed a peaceful destiny as military attache of the british embassy in holland because he knew the country well, since his wife was of that nationality. But on the morning of Friday, May 10 of that year, things changed radically when the wehrmacht the invasion began.

Although Norway and Denmark had already fallen, the Dutch thought that Hitler I would respect your neutralitydeclared precisely because they were aware of their military inability to stop a hypothetical attack.

Thus, the only defense was based on the traditional Water line and in its complement, the Grebbe lineboth conceptually obsolete because they consisted of opening the dikes that close the way to the polders (land reclaimed from the sea) and flooding the fields, as in the time of the Tercios, ignoring that the paratroopers they could overcome that obstacle; it happened like that.

Despite the fact that the Germans sent their weakest troops to Holland, the 18th Armymade up of four divisions and another three inexperienced reserve divisions and therefore reinforced with several SS divisions, The Netherlands was occupied in just one week. while the Royal Family was evacuated to England.

And yet they were not lacking danger warnings. Some German commanders, upset with the idea of ​​attacking a country that was not only neutral but had supported them in the previous war, slyly sent notices of what was being prepared.

Monty he was one of those who knew because, after all, it was his job: he was a military attaché, yes, but as that position usually implied, he was also was part of MI6the section abroad of the British intelligence service, which he had joined from MI5 (the section that operated in Great Britain).

Monty He was in The Hague when news of the invasion broke, and his presence was immediately claimed in London. Once there he was asked to urgently devise a plan to remove from Amsterdam the as many diamonds as possible industrial, which were stored in the Dutch capital.

It must be borne in mind that it was not called the diamond city because if; he had spent four centuries being the largest world center of trade and size of those precious stones and, since that business was fundamentally in the hands of the Jewish communityit seemed foreseeable that the Nazis would take it from him.

Since there was no time to lose, on Saturday night the destroyer HMS Walpole He took the trio of agents to the mainland, where they transferred to a fishing boat that dropped them off at a dock.

The ship would return for them in fourteen hours; that was the meager time they had to get the loot and get to safety. They got a car and reached Amsterdam, where a state of war had been declared and the Germans were expected to appear shortly.

HMS Walpole/Photo: Public Domain on Wikimedia Commons

Hastily they set up contact like the hebrews and they presented the situation to them: they had to move their merchandise to England as soon as possible or they would lose it. It was not easy to convince them because some, with a certain naivety, believed that this was their only trump card to negotiate with the Nazis, without counting the possible reprisals that they took against them when they saw that the diamonds were no longer there. However, the command was given access to the main market so that he could enter and take what he could.

Unfortunately, it turned out that most of the merchandise was not there but in the bank vault. Still they decided to try their luck.

Helped by people from the Dutch resistance, who apparently had already organized their first nuclei given the looming panorama (local Nazi groups were already ruling the streets), they entered the building and reached said chamber, finding that it had a delayed opening system that would not allow the boxes to enter until Monday. Too long to wait, so they started trying combinations to try to open it.

However, the task dragged on and went on for almost twenty four hours and only the information gathered by the Dutch collaborators finally allowed them to have a free hand and empty as many boxes as they could.

Later, Monty and his companions fled and somehow they reached englandit is not clear if on board the HMS Waldpole -who would have gone looking for them despite exceeding the agreed term- or on their own.

The loot, if it can be called that, was delivered to Queen Wilhelmina and his government. The exact number of diamonds that were stolen is unknown, as well as their value, although some believe that it could be the biggest robbery in history of that product.

What was official was the granting of the Distinguished Service Order to Montague Reaney Chidson, as published in the London Gazette (something like the British BOE) just over a month later, on December 20, 1940, for the courage shown in France and Flanders.

Monty His participation in the Second World War did not end there, since in 1943 he was assigned to the embassy in turkey as head of security. In that mission he was not so nice, because the ambassador’s butler turned out to be Elyesa Baznabetter known by the code name of Ciceroone of the most active spies available to the Germans in that conflict, to whom he provided photographs of dozens of documents.

Using irony, it could be said that, after all, what Monty It was not to guarantee security, but precisely the opposite, and it went down to posterity as the best plunderer at the service of Her Majesty.


The Courier/Nonsei2GM/Adventure in diamonds (David E. Walker)/MI6 and the Machinery of Spying (Philip H. J. Davies)