Crest of the V&W Destroyer AssociationCrest of the V&W Destroyer AssociationHMS WALPOLE

Aerial view of IJmuiden looking seaward
Aerial view seaward from IJmuiden at the mouth of the Amsterdam ship canal, the Noordzeekanaal
The Netherlands Institute of Military History Collection

Diamonds from Amsterdam
Whitsun 1940
The Royal Navy spent the first seven months of the war escorting the troop carriers taking the British Expeditionary Force to France.  The invasion of Denmark and Norway in April brought the “phoney war"  to an abrupt end. Unfortunately, the Navy failed to intercept the German troop carriers heading to Norway.

The Netherlands hoped to remain neutral should war come, but on the 10th May Germany invaded the Netherlands and Belgium. Faced with German air supremacy, the bombing of Rotterdam and a German army advancing on all its objectives the Dutch Army capitulated after five days. The surrender of all Dutch forces was broadcast at 6 pm on 14 May. All the Royal Navy could do to help the Netherlands was provide an escape route for royals, politicians, diplomats, artists and civilians - and most of the state gold reserves. The Dutch Navy, military and air forces would continue the struggle abroad, headed by their own sovereign government as a full member of the Allied cause.

The V & W Class destroyers at Harwich and Dover helped in the evacuation, destroyed fuel reserves and blocked the entrances to ports to deny their use to Germany. The high speed of the V & Ws made them ideal for quick dashes across the narrow sea to the coast of Holland but their 4.7-inch guns were no defence against attack from the air and HMS Valentine and HMS Whitley were bombed and sunk off the Dutch and Belgian coasts.

Walpole’s task was simple but very different. She had to embark three passengers at Harwich on the evening of 12 May, deliver them to IJmuiden, stay out of trouble during the day and return with them on the evening of 13 May. Walpole’s passengers brought back a stock of industrial diamonds whose value to the war effort vastly outweighed their inherent value.

This clandestine operation was organised by MI6 and authorised at the highest level although no Report of Proceedings by Lt Cdr Harold G. Bowerman, the CO of HMS Walpole, has been traced and references to it elsewhere are few and scanty. Understandably, the "buzz" on the lower deck of the V & Ws was that Dutch refugees seeking to escape from the Netherlands were laden with diamonds and these rumours may have been based on the secret mission of HMS Walpole which lives on in legend and was made into a popular novel and a film.

Lt Cdr Harold G Bowerman RN and his officers in May 1940

Lt Cdr Harold G. Bowerman RN, CO of HMS Waslpole in 1940
Officers serving in Walpole in May 1940 (Navy List)
Lt Cdr H.G. Bowerman RN
With acknowledgement to Darren Brown of the Submariners Association for the portrait upper left

Lt Cdr Harold G. Bowerman RN, was 36 years old when he was appointed CO of HMS Walpole on 21 November 1939. He had entered the service on 15 January 1914 when he was 13 and most of his time had been spent in submarines. He was the CO of HMS Oxley, the first British submarine casualty of the war when she was torpedoed by HMS Triton on 10 September 1939, and was one of only two survivors. The circumstances of her loss were deliberately kept a mystery for many years but are described in detail on the website of the Naval Historical Society of Australia. Bowerman was cleared and went on to command four destroyers. Bowerman was greatly respected by the wardroom  of HMS Westminster but was very short and stood on a box when on the bridge and was known as "Stumpy".

He married but had no children and his five sisters died without issue. It seems unlikely that there are any family members alive to give an account of the part played by HMS
Walpole on the "Diamond Mission". The names of the officers serving with him in HMS Walpole in May 1940 are recorded in the quarterly Naval List but even if one of them was still alive it is unlikely he would be able to recall any details of this clandestine operation. The 1st Lt, next in line to Bowerman, was Lt Michael R.E. Fanning RN who was appointed on 4 April 1938.

Darron Wadey lives with his Dutch wife and family near Amsterdam where these events took place eighty years ago. He has researched the facts behind the legend and tells the story of how the Dutch Smit family and the remarkable Colonel Chidson brought  the industrial diamonds to Britain under the nose of German forces.

Dutch neutrality - and hopes!

Darron Wadey in his study in the NL The Netherlands was neutral in the First World War. Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland were neutral by treaty but the Netherlands was neutral by choice. Although the Dutch was not one of the belligerents it was one of the first to mobilise and sent around 200,000 troop to defend the Nineteenth century Waterline (Waterlinie) and Amsterdam Fortifications (Stelling van Amsterdam). The Dutch managed to maintain its neutrality but had to cope with the consequences of the war: refugees, food shortages and the need to intern soldiers or sailors - from both sides - who happened to end up in Dutch territory.

After the war, the Dutch gave the deposed Kaiser Wilhelm II refuge. He lived out his days at Doorn House (Huis Doorn) until his death in June 1941 in German occupied Netherlands. This was not the first time the Dutch had helped Britain’s enemies. In 1900, the cruiser (pantserdekschip) Hr.Ms.Gelderland, was sent - with British agreement - to take Paul Kruger, President of Transvaal, one of two Boer states at war with Britain, to exile in the Netherlands. He was received by Queen Wilhelmina, and stayed in the country until a couple of months before his death in July 1904. Several streets in the Netherlands are still named after Kruger or othe Boer associations. Almost forty years after Kruger’s arrival, the Queen who gave him refuge would seek her own safety, in Britain, and was taken there by the destroyer HMS Hereward.

After the Great War many Austrian and Hungarian children were fostered by Dutch families and some settled in the Netherlands. After Hitler came to power, a new influx of refugees came to the Netherlands from Germany, mainly Jews, including the family of Anne Frank.

By the late 1930s, the Dutch state was understandably nervous about the international situation. It desperately wanted to maintain its neutrality and forbade any joint planning with the Allies to prepare for its defence lest this provide an excuse for an invasion. The seizure in November 1939 of two British agents five metres from the German border at Venlo led to the head of Dutch military intelligence losing his position. The so-called "Venlo incident" was used by the German Nazi government to link Britain to Georg Elser's failed assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler and help justify Germany's invasion of the Netherlands.

In the run up to war, The Netherlands’s rearmament programme came too late. The greatest deficiency was the complete lack of tanks. The country hoped that its neutrality would be respected and that if an invasion occurred its defences based on static fortifications and flooding, would hold out until the Allies came to their assistance. None of these hopes were justified.

The Whitsun invasion

In the early hours of Friday 10 May 1940, Germany launched Fall Gelb (Operation Yellow), its attack on western Europe, through the Netherlands and Belgium. There were four main thrusts to the attack on the Dutch. The first involved landings by paratroopers in the west of the country. One of the main objectives was the capture of airfields near The Hague that could, then be used to bring in troops by plane, so-called airlanding troops. Other paratroopers were tasked with capturing the Royal Family and leading members of the government.

Further south, paratroopers sought to capture airfields and strategic bridges in and around Rotterdam, including an audacious coup de main involving seaplanes which landed on the New Maas river (Nieuwe Maas) in the centre of the city and captured a major bridge.

These airborne units were to hold their positions until the arrival of the main infantry and armoured units. These attacked along three axes. One went through the south of the country and then swung north to approach Rotterdam, relieving the paratroopers who had secured the strategic bridges. The idea was to unlock the so-called “Fortress Holland” (Vesting Holland), a stronghold that also included The Hague and Amsterdam.

The other German advances were through the middle of the country, to Utrecht and to the North. The latter was halted at the eastern end of the Afsluitdijk, the barrier that separated the Wadden Sea from the Zuiderzee. Had the Germans succeeded in taking both ends of the Afsluitdijk, they could have threatened Amsterdam from the north.

The German paratroop and air landings around The Hague met with mixed success. Some of the follow-up transport planes had to land on beaches, motorways or fields, rendering most of them useless for collecting reinforcements from Germany. Others had to land on airfields that were unsafe, and planes were damaged as they landed. Some paratroopers were dropped in the wrong place but the presence of so many airborne troops in the lightly defended western flank caused the Dutch lots of problems, even if the German objectives were not always secured.

Actions around Rotterdam were far more successful and arguably, of greater strategic value, especially after the failure to capture the heads of government or the Royal Family. They were evacuated to Britain, for the most part with British assistance, leaving General Henri Winkelman, Commander-in-Chief of Land and Naval Forces, as the senior representative of the Dutch state in the country.

The Dutch put up stiffer resistance than expected but the Germans were advancing on almost every objective. The Dutch air force was non-existent, and following the bombing of Rotterdam on the 14 May, to avoid further attacks on population centres, General Winkelman decided the armed forces in the Netherlands would “capitulate” - not surrender. The distinction was important, the government did not surrender and armed forces abroad would continue the struggle.

After five days of fighting, the Germans were able to take over the Dutch mainland and adjoining islands. The invasion gave German forces room to attack Belgium from the north whilst simultaneously acting as bait to attract the Allies to advance north, a point of contention between the British and French. Securing the Netherlands also gave Germany access to air and naval bases closer to Britain from where attacks could be launched.

The Royal Navy in the Netherlands, May 1940

No plans were made with the Allies to prepare for a German invasion in order to protect Dutch neutrality. Unilateral plans were made. For example, the Dutch Navy planned to relocate ships to Britain, and British naval officers carried out surreptitious reconnaissance missions to Dutch ports with a view to possible demolition work.

When the invasion took place, all Britain could do was retrieve what it could from a bad situation. France sent troops into the southwest of the country, the province of Zeeland, and attempted to relieve Dordrecht, an important German objective south of Rotterdam.

British action concentrated upon evacuating people. These included refugees fleeing the Germans (especially Jewish civilians, both German and Dutch), diplomats and officials from various nations, Dutch ministers and officials and the Dutch Royal Family. The Sadler’s Well Ballet on tour in the country and including Dame Margot Fontaine, was evacuated. So were 1,300 German troops captured by the Dutch, including a regimental commander, at that time the most senior German in British hands.

Other actions related to the recovery of assets. As well as industrial diamonds, the  gold reserves in Amsterdam were successfully shipped out but gold reserves in Rotterdam were not recovered, and an attempt to retrieve securities and bonds from the Bank of the Netherlands in Amsterdam also failed.

Finally, small British forces landed at the ports of IJmuiden, Flushing, the Hook of Holland and Rotterdam. They were tasked with destroying anything of value to the enemy, principally oil stocks and port installations. A composite battalion of Irish and Welsh Guards landed at the Hook to provide support for the evacuation of the British diplomatic mission in the Hague, British expatriates and the Dutch government.

Despite its other wartime commitments, including the evacuation of troops from Norway, more than sixty British vessels were sent to the Netherlands during the five day invasion. They ranged from requisitioned ferries acting as troopships, through to trawlers acting as minesweepers, MTBs (Motor Torpedo Boats), destroyers and a few light cruisers.

This motley collection of ships found themselves in the major ports and harbours of Den Helder, IJmuiden (at the mouth of the Amsterdam ship canal, the Noordzeekanaal), Scheveningen (The Hague), Hook of Holland, Rotterdam and Flushing, carrying out one or more of the rescue and recovery tasks. The MTBs actually sailed up the Noordzeekanaal into the IJsselmeer and ended up being among the final units to leave for Britain.

The backbone of the Royal Navy’s commitment to the Netherlands was the destroyer force. Given how stretched the Navy was, to put together such a large force was no mean feat. The destroyers were close at hand, the Nore Command at Harwich and Dover Command. Some 23 V&W destroyers took part in Operations off the Dutch, Belgian and French Coast (ADM 199/667) in May 1940. They were twenty years old and out of date, their powerful 4.7-inch guns comparable with some light cruisers were no defence against attack from the air. They often had to depend upon the seamanship of the captain, or luck, to survive an air attack unscathed. Yet, with their high speed were ideally suited for the high tempo shuttle actions of those early May days.

HMS Walpole had a simple task, to transfer three individuals from Harwich to IJmuiden on the night of Sunday 12th May to Monday 13th May (which would have been the Whitsun Bank Holiday) and bring them back on Monday evening. IJmuiden was, and still is, a fishing, ferry and steel port at the mouth of Amsterdam’s ship canal, the Noordzeekanaal.

Aerial view inland from IJmuiden
Aerial view inland from IJmuiden on the Noordzeekanaal to Amsterdam
The Netherlands Institute of Military History Collection

The Diamonds Mission

In 1940, the Diamond Trading Company in London was the centre of the global diamond trade, with Amsterdam and Antwerp the centres of cutting and finishing for both jewelry and industrial diamonds. Small in size, the inherent value of industrial diamonds was vastly outweighed by what they could bring to the war effort of whoever possessed them. Industrial diamonds have the necessary physical characteristics to be effective in the manufacturing processes of a range of objects. These include aeroplane engines and related machinery, artillery, gyroscopes, tanks and torpedoes, prisms and lenses for gun and bombsights.

Jan Kors Smit, LondonJan Kors Smit Snr The three passengers on HMS Walpolewere tasked with recovering as many industrial diamonds from Amsterdam as they could. Two of the party were employees of J.K. Smit en Zonen, at that time one of the largest diamond companies in the world. The other was a member of the British secret service. J.K. Smit en Zonen was an international company with an office in London. Two of its Dutch representatives in Britain, Jan Kors Smit and Willem Woltman, joined HMS Walpole. Jan Kors Smit (on left) was the grandson of the company’s founder, Jan Kors, and son of the current head, Mr. Johan J. Smit (on right) in Amsterdam. Both photographs are courtesy of JK Smit Diamond Tools.

The third member of the group was Lt. Col. Montagu Reaney Chidson, a much-storied man. He was originally an officer in the Royal Garrison Artillery, but was one of the earliest military pilots, gaining his wings before the First World War. Come 1940, Chidson was part of Section D of MI6, the template for the Special Operations Executive, SOE. Chidson’s military and intelligence connections with the Netherlands dated back to the First World War and immediate post-war period. In the late 1930s he returned to the country as Passport Control Officer in The Hague. This was the cover post for the local head of MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS). His successor was one of the two SIS officers kidnapped in the German intelligence coup at the Dutch border town of Venlo in November 1939.

The improvised and secret nature of the diamonds operation means that there is virtually nothing written down in official (British) documents. HMS Walpole received no written orders, there are no ship’s logs to refer to and, apparently, no after action report from Walpole. HMS Walpole and its passengers are absent from the reports of Dutch naval and military officers in IJmuiden during the German invasion and from Commander Goodenough’s report on Operation XD(A), to destroy fuel reserves at Amsterdam and block the harbour at IJmuiden.

The frustration is all the greater because the vessels involved in other sensitive missions to IJmuiden, such as the evacuation of Crown Princess Juliana and her family, are mentioned. Further, the ship and army officer tasked with recovering bonds and securities from the Bank of the Netherlands (De Nederlandsche Bank) are also mentioned in these military and naval reports … but not Walpole nor her passengers.

However, at the highest level of government, the recovery of the industrial diamonds was mentioned, for example, in para 4 of "Operations off the Dutch and Belgian Coasts" in the Weekly Resume (no.37) to the Cabinet Office of the Naval, Military and Air Situation from May 9th to May 16th 1940 (The National Archives, CAB 66/7/38):

"Three Dutch merchant vessels with bullion were safely escorted to the United Kingdom, but a small Dutch pilot vessel with some bullion on board was sunk between Rotterdam and the Hook. Diamond stocks were also transferrd to the United Kingdom [our emphasis]. A number of Dutch merchant ships was evacuated from Dutch ports, and the SS Phrontus arrived in the Downs with 900 prisoners of war. Refugees were evacuated from Dutch ports, and on the 13th May HM the Queen of the Netherlands arrived at Harwich in HMS Hereward; the remainder of the Royal Family, the Dutch Government, Diplomatric Corps and Legation Staffs of the Allies also safely arrived in the United Kingdom."

The recovery of diamonds during operations in the Netherlands was reported in the British and Empire press, even being briefly mentioned as far away as Australia. Snippets of documentation surrounding the diamonds mission come from the secretive Section D of MI6. Given the secrecy surrounding both the expedition and of Section D, this is ironic. In particular, the recovery of industrial diamonds from Amsterdam is mentioned in its final report a few months later, summer 1940.

The mission is also recorded in the Dutch Official History of the Second World War, Dr. L. de Jong’s, Het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden in de Tweede Wereldoorlog, but it takes up less than a page in a twelve volume work. Written nearly thirty years later, Volume III, May 1940, covers the German invasion and includes a precis of the expedition and mentions that Walpole was involved (pp.441-2). The participation of Willem Woltman is not mentioned. It is a hallmark of the various sources, that they nearly all mention two diamond merchants or Mr Jan Kors Smit and an accompanying British intelligence officer, but not all three.

Bombing of the in Amsterdam on 11 May 1940
Panoramic view of the damage done to the houses along the Blauwburgwai, Amsterdam, following the German bombing on 11 May 1940
Source: Stadsarchief Amsterdam

Despite the lack of documentation, the balance of evidence suggests that three men on a secret mission travelled on the Walpole to IJmuiden on the night of 12-13 May 1940 and managed to get to Amsterdam. On arrival in Amsterdam, Jan Kors Smit arranged a meeting with his father, Johan Smit, the head of the family firm and explained their mission. He had already managed to secure passage for some of his diamond stocks the previous evening, handing them over to a British merchantman on the evening of 12 May. He now agreed to hand over the remainder of J.K. Smit en Zonen’s stock to his son and companions, but not those upon which German interests had options, much to the annoyance of Lt. Col. Chidson. Johan Smit also facilitated a meeting with other diamond merchants in the city, two of whom agreed to hand over diamonds. Their contribution to the haul was much smaller than that of J.K Smit en Zonen (de Jong, Koninkrijk, op cit pp.141-2).

In the meantime, HMS Walpole’s was tasked with keeping out of trouble, and collecting the trio later that day, 13 May. IJmuiden was subject to regular air attacks, so staying there was not an option. Sailing up and down the coast also presented challenges from a German Luftwaffe now enjoying air supremacy. According to the dramatised tale of the mission, Adventure in Diamonds, HMS Walpole sailed south along the coast, near Scheveningen, The Hague’s own harbour, where they would have seen plenty of evidence of fighting. German transport planes carrying airlanding troops had landed on nearby beaches as the airfields they were meant to land at were still being contested.

Ju52 "beached"
The Netherlands Institute of Military History Collection

Walpole managed to keep out of trouble and made her way back to IJmuiden for her rendezvous with the diamond party. Her three charges made their way back to IJmuiden from Amsterdam as planned, having also brought with them a bottle of Napoleon brandy each. The transfer to HMS Walpole was not without difficulty, requiring the unwilling co-operation of a tugboat master, but they arrived back in Britain early the next morning. Valuations of the diamonds they brought back have varied from 500,000 to 2.5 million.

Lt. Col. M.R. Chidson

“On May 12 information reached us that an extremely important collection of industrial diamonds were located in Amsterdam.

Despite the fact that this officer is on the German Black List, he insisted on going over himself. He proceeded to Amsterdam where he remained for some 24 hours during which time there was considerable street fighting and Fifth Column Activity in the town. He brought out the whole of the industrial diamond stock and this prevented the Germans from obtaining an extremely important source of industrial activity.

This action would by itself have won a recommendation for an award but considered in the light of the certainty of his fate if caught by the Gestapo, he displayed courage of a very high order.”

Recommendation for award of DSO for Lt Col Chidson
The recommendation by DMI (MI6) for the award of the DSO to Lt Col M.R. Chidson was granted and announced in the London Gazette on 20 December 1940
This unsigned note from MI6 is in sharp contrast to the formal Reports of Proceedings with recommendations for awards
made by Commanding Officers to the Admiralty
National Archives WO-373-16-272

An exaggerated story?

Walpole’s mission to bring the industrial diamonds from Amsterdam to Britain during the Dutch  five days war is mainly remembered today because of a book by the journalist and author, David Esdaile Walker (on right). He was born in Darjeeling, India, in 1907, the only child of Major General Sir Ernest Walker, but was educated in Britain.

During the war he combined jobs as foreign correspondent for the Daily Mirror and a representative of the Reuters news agency for the Balkans with work as an agent of MI6 in Switzerland, the Balkans and Greece and this provided the background for several of his books. His eighth book, “Adventure in Diamonds” (Evans Brothers, 1955), is a dramatised account of the mission to recover the industrial diamonds from Amsterdam. The book was a success and reached an even larger larger audience when it was filmed by J Arthur Rank and released as “Operation Amsterdam” (1959). His novel "Lunch with a stranger" (Alan Wingate, 1957) is thought to be partly autobiographical, based on his own activities as an MI6 agent under the guise of being a foreign correspondent for the Daily Mirror.

In Print - Adventure in Diamonds

David Easdale WalkerBook cover of "Adventure in Diamonds" by Favid E WalkerAlthough long out of print second hand copies can be bought over the Internet and an e-book version can be read online by clicking on the link:

Walker’s story centres on three individuals:

Mr Jan Kors Smit, Dutch, a director of J.K. Smit en Zonen in Britain, and grandson of the company’s founder
Mr “Walter Keyser” [pseudonym for Willem Woltman], Dutch by birth but with British nationalty and based in Britain, a colleague of Jan Kors Smit
“Major Dillon” [pseudonym for Lt. Col. Chidson], a British soldier with a clear secret service, or similar connection.

Significant roles are also played by:

Mr. Johan J Smit, Dutch, head of J.K. Smit en Zonen in Amsterdam. He is the son of the founder and father of Jan Kors Smit in London.
Lt Cdr Harold Bowerman, captain of HMS Walpole.

When news reached Britain of the German invasion on Friday 10 May 1940 Jan Kors Smit and “Keyser”,  aware of the value Amsterdam’s stocks of diamonds could be to the German war effort, make their concerns known to the Board of Trade. They are brought into contact with “Major Dillon” and the three make their way to Harwich where they board HMS Walpole, which has been tasked with taking them to IJmuiden and back. The destroyer leaves on the night of Sunday 12 May 1940 with all haste. On the way across the North Sea it nearly collides with two other destroyers travelling equally fast but towards Britain carrying the Dutch Crown Princess and her family. At dawn on 13 May 1940, Walpole arrives at IJmuiden.

The three companions disembark via rowing boat but, almost immediately, the harbour is attacked by the Luftwaffe, which sinks a civilian liner carrying refugees. However, our party succeeds in getting ashore only to be met by scenes of chaos: Dutch soldiers everywhere, dead bodies piled up, harassed officers and officials, refugees and the ever-present fear and threat of fifth columnists and German paratroopers.

The party also meet the mysterious “Anna” who has just seen the parents of her fiance killed by a German air attack as they were leaving by trawler. She agrees to take the three to Amsterdam in her car.

In Amsterdam, they meet with one of “Major Dillon’s” contacts and with Mr Johan J. Smit, head of the J.K. Smit en Zonen diamond company. He had already delivered a package of diamonds the previous night to a British merchant ship and agrees to hand over his remaining diamonds and ask other diamond merchants if they will hand over their stocks. The Amsterdam and Antwerp diamond industries were predominantly Jewish (although the Smit family is not). They were naturally nervous of the situation and of reprisals if they assisted the British, but at a subsequent meeting many are reassured and hand over their diamonds to Jan Kors, “Keyser” and “Major Dillon”.

They return to IJmuiden with the diamonds, avoiding some traitorous Dutch soldiers on the way with a little help from “Anna’s” boss who is actually a Dutch Colonel. Despite the chaos and panic in the town they manage to rejoin Walpole, but not without some officious difficulty involving a tug master who refuses to leave the harbour because he is not qualified for ocean going. This is resolved after some not so gentle “persuasion” by “Major Dillon”.

Walpole had been sailing up and down the Dutch coast near Scheveningen and The Hague and had encountered other destroyers, a merchant ship carrying gold to Britain and seen evidence of the fighting inland. Having embarked her passengers from the harbour tug, Walpole makes it safely back to Britain and the diamonds are handed over to the care of The Diamond Trading Company in London.

After allowing for the exaggerations, sensationalism and the fictional details required in a novel the book can still be considered a guide to actual events though not all details are accurate. Walker assures the reader of the co-operation of the protagonists and some content can only have come from first-hand accounts by “Keyser” (Willem Woltman), Lt.Cdr. Bowerman and Johan Smit. “Major Dillon” (Lt.Col. Chidson) considered himself bound by the Official Secrets Act and declined to assist. Since Jan Kors Smit died in 1946 his real name could be used in the book.

On Film - Operation Amsterdam

Walker’s book reads as if written for a screenplay and soon after publication the film rights were acquired by the Rank Organisation and filmed at Pinewood Studios and on location in IJmuiden, Schermerhorn and in Amsterdam. It was released in 1959 as Operation Amsterdam and starred Peter Finch, Tony Britton, Eva Bartok and, in supporting roles, Melvyn Hayes and John Le Mesurier. It can be viewed (writing mid-2020) on YouTube at:

Filming Operation Amsterdan at IJmuiden
Filming “Operation Amsterdam” in IJmuiden harbour
Peter Finch (Jan Kors Smit) is left foreground holding a white package,  Alexander Knox (Walter Keyser) is centre foreground squeezing between two actors,  Tony Britton as “Major Dillon” is in front of the camera
  Noord-Hollands Archief (Ref. KNA001005559)

While based on Walker’s book, the second half of the film veers even further away from his dramatised account. For example, there is a fire-fight between soldiers, all in Dutch uniform, a fully functioning resistance cell equipped with German weapons (the Germans only arrived in Amsterdam on 15 May 1940 and our story takes place on 12-13 May) and the diamonds are stolen from a bank vault. None of this, of course, actually happened. Unfortunately, the role that Walpole plays in the film is marginal.

The film made a substantial contribution to the mythology surrounding the expedition. Its title  “Operation Amsterdam” is assumed to be the actual name of the mission. Given its hurried, secret and ad hoc nature, the expedition might not have had a formal name. There is no evidence for a mission name and it is not mentioned anywhere in the book “Adventure in Diamonds”. However, when the book was reprinted in the 1970s, some editions at least were published with the title “Operation Amsterdam”.

Legend and Myth

HMS Walpole was adopted by the town of Ely in the Fen country of Cambridgeshire as the result of a successful Warships Week national savings programme in March 1942 which raised 300,000 for the construction of a new destroyer. When a civic deputation visited Walpole from Ely in late 1943, the Ely Standard reported on its front page that Walpole had saved the Dutch Crown Jewels. Walpole’s voyage to Holland on 12 May 1940 had become part of the ship’s folklore, passed on from shipmate to shipmate and were repeated by the Ely Standard three and a half years later.

Although Walpole’s return cargo had morphed into the Dutch Crown Jewels this is actually one of the few references outside of Walker’s book of the ship’s involvement in those mad May days of 1940. The three individuals brought back with them industrial diamonds worth perhaps as much as 2.5 million in current prices and vastly more today. And in June 2020 the Ely Standard published a further article about these latest discoveries.

Another memento of Walpole’s journey can be found in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, where Jan Kors Smit, one of our travellers, lived. He renamed his home - which later also served as an address for J.K. Smit en Zonen -  Walpole House in honour of the trip he undertook in 1940. After Jan Kors’ death his brother Johan Jnr lived there. When he died more than fifty years after these events, he was recorded as living at “Walpole Cottage”, a different address but still bearing the Walpole name. . Quite clearly, this ship, her actions, and this expedition in May 1940 left an indelible impression on the Smit family.


A similar "mission" took place in Antwerp, second only to Amsterdam in diamond cutting, polishing and fashioning. It is much is better documented as the protagonist wrote it all down, in English, some three years later.

On 11 May 1940 Paul J. Timbal, the  CEO of the Antwerp "diamond bank" and a Belgian Army reservist, left Antwerp with 100 million Belgian Francs (around 67 million Euros) of diamonds for Paris. He was accompanied by his wife and two daughters, and arrived two days later. Concerned about the safety of Paris, he moved on to Royan at the mouth of the Gironde near Bordeaux, but with the fall of France imminent decided to move on again to Britain.

Operation Ariel was the code name for the evacuation of troops and civilians from the western ports of France between 15 - 25 June 1940. By this time, MI6 was aware of what Timball was doing and sent the steamship Broompark to bring him to Falmouth. Lord "Wild Jack" Suffolk organised the evacuation of Timbal and French nuclear scientist with heavy water. Three years later Timball wrote a 353 page book, published in English in 2014 by the Belgian Royal Commission on History with the title,  "Why the Belgian Diamonds Never Fell Into Enemy Hands, May 10, 1940 - June 23, 1940" (Commission royale d'histoire, 2014). The Bartlett Maritime Research Centre in the National Maritime Museum Cornwall, Falmouth, has published an online account of the Broompark's arrival at Falmouth with the diamonds and heavy water.

If you can provide further details of the diamond mission or have any queries about it contact Darron Wadey by e-mail.
Darron is a British national resident in the Netherlands. He is a member of a number of (military) historical associations and societies.
His research concentrates upon British actions during the invasion of the Netherlands in May 1940.

Two Captains, 1941 - 3

On 28 August 1940  Walpole was bombed off Dover and repaired at Chatham but on 28 October she detonated a magnetic mine near the Sunk Light Vessel off Harwich and had to be towed to Sheerness by HMS Windsor and was under repair at Green & Silley Weirs' Blackwall Yard on the Thames until April 1941. Lt.Cdr. John Henry Eaden, DSC, RN succeeded Bowerman as CO while she was under repair.

The next chapter in the story of HMS Walpole covers the years 1941-3
When she was commanded by Lt Cdr John H. Eaden and Lt Arthur S. Pomeroy

If you want to find out more about the wartime service of a member of your family who served on HMS Walpole you should first obtain a copy of their service record
To find out how follow this link:

If you have stories or photographs of HMS Walpole you would like to contribute to the web site please contact Bill Forster

Return to the Home Page for HMS Walpole

Return to the Home Page of the V & W Destroyer Association
Return to the Index Page for the 69 V & W Class Destroyers