British agents are abducted in ‘The Venlo Incident’

The British Secret Intelligence Service based in the Netherlands ( at that time a neutral country)  had established contact with Germans purporting to be disaffected with Nazi rule, who claimed they were connected to like minded members of the German High Command. Captain Sigmund Payne-Best and Major Richard Stevens were accompanied by Dutch Lieutenant Dirk Klop to a series of meetings with the Germans in Venlo, near the Dutch border with Germany. On the 9th November a meeting was arranged at the Café Backus, adjacent to the border itself.

In 1950 Sigmund Payne-Best published his account of the incident:

Somehow or other, it seemed to me that things looked different from what they had on the previous days. Then I noticed that the German barrier across the road which had always been closed, was now lifted; there seemed to be nothing between us and the enemy. My feeling of impending danger was very strong. Yet the scene was peaceful enough. No one was in sight except a German customs officer in uniform lounging along the road towards us and a little girl who was playing at ball with a big black dog in the middle of the road before the cafe.

I must have rather checked my speed, for Klop called out, “Go ahead, everything is quite all right.” I felt rather a fool to be so nervous. I let the car drift slowly along to the front of the cafe on my left and then reversed into the car park on the side of the building farthest from the frontier. Schaemmel was standing on the veranda at the corner and made a sign which I took to mean that our bird was inside. I stopped the engine and Stevens got out on the right. My car had left-hand drive.

I had just wriggled clear of the wheel and was following him out when there was a sudden noise of shouting and shooting. I looked up, and through the windscreen saw a large open car drive up round the corner till our bumpers were touching. It seemed to be packed to overflowing with rough-looking men. Two were perched on top of the hood and were firing over our heads from sub-machine guns, others were standing up in the car and on the running boards; all shouting and waving pistols. Four men jumped off almost before their car had stopped and rushed towards us shouting: “Hands up!”

I don’t remember actually getting out of the car, but by the time the men reached us, I was certainly standing next to Stevens, on his left. I heard him say: “Our number is up, Best.” The last words we were to exchange for over five years. Then we were seized. Two men pointed their guns at our heads, the other two quickly handcuffed us.

I heard shots behind me on my right. I looked round and saw Klop. He must have crept out behind us under cover of the car door which had been left open. He was running diagonally away from us towards the road; running sideways in big bounds, firing at our captors as he ran. He looked graceful, with both arms outstretched – almost like a ballet dancer. I saw the windscreen of the German car splinter into a star, and then the four men standing in front of us started shooting and after a few more steps Klop just seemed to crumple and collapse into a dark heap of clothes on the grass.

“Now, march!” shouted our captors, and prodding us in the small of our backs with their guns, they hurried us, with cries of “Hup! Hup! Hup!” along the road towards the frontier. As we passed the front of the cafe I saw my poor Jan held by the arms by two men who were frog-marching him along. It seemed to me that his chin was reddened as from a blow. Then we were across the border. The black and white barrier closed behind us. We were in Nazi Germany.

Sigismund Payne Best: The Venlo Incident

See Payne Best: The Venlo Incident: How the Nazis Fooled Britain also available from and


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