File No.: Battle Study # 26

Title: Location of the Venlo Incident

Investigation made at: Herunerberg #417, Municipality of Venlo,
Province of Limburg, Kingdom of the Netherlands, Niederdorfer Straße, Municipality of Straelen, Land of Nordrhein-Westfalen, Federal Republic of Germany

(5
1°22'54.67"N 6°13'01.97"E)

Period Covered: 09NOV1939

Date: FEB 2015

Case Classification: Location of Historic Events

Status of Case: Case Closed

 


REASON FOR INVESTIGATION: The Venlo Incident was a covert German Sicherheitsdienst (SD-Security Service) operation where two British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) agents were abducted on the outskirts of the town of Venlo, the Netherlands, on 09NOV1939. The incident was later used by the German Nazi government to link Britain to Georg Elser's failed assassination attempt on German Chancellor Adolf Hitler at the Bürgerbräukeller in Munich, Germany, on 08NOV1939 and to justify Germany's invasion of the Netherlands, while a neutral country, on 10MAY1940. The incident took place at the Dutch-German border at Venlo. This agency visited the location of the incident.

SYNOPSIS:
Neville Chamberlain on his return from Munich on 30SEP1938 stood outside Number 10 Downing Street saying: "My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honor. I believe it is peace for our time."
Even after the British declaration of war on Nazi Germany on 03SEP1939, Chamberlain was still interested in constituting peace with Germany before much blood shed. The British government knew of the existence of a vast opposition among the top of the Germany military. During the fall of 1939 the German opposition probed the British government all over Europe but all diplomatic efforts to avoid the Second World War during the days preceding the German invasion of Poland in 1939 had come to nothing. So when a German refugee named Fischer succeeded in winning the confidence of the exiled Catholic leader, Dr. Karl Spiecker, a British intelligence informant in the Netherlands, the British SIS became interested in the information Fischer was offering.
 

Secret meetings
In early September 1939 a meeting was arranged between Fischer and the British SIS agent
CPT Sigismund Payne Best. Best, 54 years old at the time, was an experienced British Army intelligence officer who worked under the cover of a businessman residing in The Hague. Follow-up meetings included MAJ Richard Henry Stevens, a less-experienced intelligence operative working covertly for the British SIS as the Passport Control Officer in The Hague, Netherlands. To help Best and Stevens get through Dutch mobilized zones near the border with Germany, a young Dutch officer, 1LT Dirk Klop, was recruited by Chief of the Dutch Military Intelligence, MAJ GEN Van Oorschot. Van Oorschot permitted Klop to attend covert meetings but not to participate because of the neutrality of the Netherlands. During the early meetings Fischer brought participants posing as German officers who supported a plot against Hitler and were interested in establishing Allied peace terms should Hitler be removed from power. When word of Fischer's success in setting up the meetings with the British agents reached the Foreign Intelligence (Counter-Espionage) section of the Sicherheitsdienst, Sturmbannführer (MAJ) Walter Schellenberg began coming to the meetings. Under his disguise "Hauptmann (CPT) Schämmel", Schellenberg was at the time a trusted operative of Heinrich Himmler and was in close contact with Reinhard Heydrich during the Venlo operation. At the last meeting between the British SIS agents and the German SD officers on 8NOV1939, Schellenberg promised to bring a general to a meeting scheduled on the following day. Instead the Germans brought the talks to an abrupt end with the kidnapping of Best and Stevens.

Nazi motives
Even Hitler considered attacking a neutral country like The Netherlands without immediate cause, to be too risky. He energetically looked for a motive for carrying out his plans. This excuse took not long to come along and received its carrying out under the name of the so called Venlo Incident.

Sequence of events leading up to the Venlo Incident
On 07NOV1939, Best, MAJ Stevens, 1LT Klop met with two German officers: 1LT Grosh and MAJ Schämmel (in fact SD-MAJ Schellenberg). Klop was instrumental in holding the meeting in the Café Backus on the outskirts of Venlo, as the location better suited the Germans, being close to the border crossing. Best and Stevens reported London's answers to their questions. Though the answers appeared not to come up to their expectations, the Germans said they would pass them on to their “chief” and proposed a meeting with him the next day as he was anxious to entrust “secret papers” to Best and Stevens for safekeeping if the plot against Hitler failed.
On 08NOV1939, Best, MAJ Stevens and 1LT Klop met only with MAJ Schämmel at the Café Backus.
MAJ Schämmel said the general who would initially come had been called by Hitler to an urgent meeting in Munich to consider an appeal for peace made by the Queen of the Netherlands and the King of Belgium. Schämmel asked Best and Stevens to meet again on the following day at the Café Backus so that the general could be present, adding that as an “attempt” against Hitler was to be made on Saturday, tomorrow would be the last chance for a meeting.
 
Abduction Raid
On 9NOV1939 the meeting was planned for 1600. As for the last meeting, Klop arranged for a Dutch police guard to be present at the border. Unlike previous meetings Best and Stevens armed themselves with Browning automatics in case something went wrong.
Early that day, Schellenberg received orders from Heinrich Himmler to abduct the British SIS agents, Best and Stevens. German SS-Sonderkommandos (SS Special Forces; Commandos) under the operations command of SD man Alfred Naujocks, carried out the orders.
Best was at the wheel of his car when he drove into the car park at the Café Backus. Stevens was sitting beside him while 1LT Klop and Jan Lemmens (Best's Dutch driver) were sitting in the back seat. Before Best had time to get out, Naujocks' SD men arrived in an open car. In a brief shootout, Klop was mortally wounded. After being handcuffed and stood against a wall, Best and Stevens, together with Jan Lemmens were bundled into the SD car. Klop was put into Best's car and both cars were driven off over the border into Germany. Best recalls a full body search was performed on him when they reached Düsseldorf en route to Berlin. At Düsseldorf one of the men who had taken part in the kidnapping told Best the reason for the action was to catch some Germans plotting against the Führer who were responsible for the attempt on his life the night before.
1LT Dirk Klop was admitted to a hospital in Düsseldorf. A doctor on duty recalled years later Klop was unconscious when admitted and died the same day from a gun wound to the head.
On 10MAY1940 Germany invaded the Netherlands and held most of the country under Nazi occupation until capitulating on 5MAY1945.

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CONCLUSION:
We visited the location of the Venlo Incident on the Herunerberg road near Venlo. The Café Backus is still in business on the same location and in the same building. Today, it is more of a convenience store and supermarket predominantly selling German customers typical Dutch items and merchandise which is cheaper in the Netherlands. The building of the German Customs is also still there but is now closed due to the free transportation of people and goods in the European Community. Walking into German territory we came with a working hypothesis of where Alfred Naujock’s SD-raid car sat waiting for the kidnapping of Best and Stevens: on a side road off Niederdorfer Straße just passed the German Customs building.

EXHIBITS:
Then
The Dutch-German border crossing at the Backus Café "Then":


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Backus Café and frontier in the 1930's

Now
The border at the Backus Café "Now":

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Backus Café and old German Customs building

The German side and side road off Niederdorfer Straße

Reenactment:
The Backus Café during a 1948 reconstruction of the Venlo Incident at the exact site with Dutch Customs border guards and actors in civilian clothes standing in for the British agents and their Dutch entourage:

(click to enlarge)

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