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Brilliant! The secret war mission that inspired the James Bond’s neat tuxedo under a scuba diving suit

Domagoj Valjak
Scottish actor Sean Connery on the set of Goldfinger, directed by Guy Hamilton. (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)
Scottish actor Sean Connery on the set of Goldfinger, directed by Guy Hamilton. (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

Since his first on-screen appearance in the 1962 film Dr. No, James Bond, MI6 agent 007, has quickly risen to become one of the most popular fictional characters of all time.

The sleek, charming, and cunning secret agent with a “license to kill,” created by Ian Fleming, a prolific writer with a background in the British Naval Intelligence Division, has appeared in 39 official books, authored by Fleming and five other writers, and 26 films.

Connery during filming for Diamonds Are Forever in 1971. Photo by Mieremet, Rob / Anefo – Nationaal Archief, CC BY-SA 3.0 nl

Connery during filming for Diamonds Are Forever in 1971. Photo by Mieremet, Rob / Anefo – Nationaal Archief, CC BY-SA 3.0 nl

Bond’s adrenaline-fueled adventures have been known to feature memorable supervillains, impossible stunts, weapons and contraptions that would easily fit in the realm of science fiction, and secret mission scenarios that often seem exaggerated and too elaborate to be even remotely possible in real life.

Still, some of the unbelievable scenes were actually inspired by real-life events that took place during secret missions conducted by Allied spies, agents, and soldiers during World War II.

Actor Sean Connery, the original James Bond, is pictured here on the set of Goldfinger with one of the fictional spy’s cars, a 1964 Aston Martin DB5. Photo by Getty Images

Actor Sean Connery, the original James Bond, is pictured here on the set of Goldfinger with one of the fictional spy’s cars, a 1964 Aston Martin DB5. Photo by Getty Images

One such scene is featured at the beginning of the 1964 Goldfinger, the third film of the franchise and the first James Bond film one to win an Academy Award: somewhere in Latin America, Bond stealthily emerges from the ocean in his diving suit, neutralizes a guard, and plants an explosive device at a secret drug laboratory.

He then removes the diving suit and reveals a neat and unscathed white dinner suit beneath it. As the clock on the explosive device ominously ticks on, Bond casually enters a nearby bar and blends in with the crowd. He lights a cigarette precisely at the moment that an enormous explosion announces the success of his mission.

Peter Tazelaar (light coat) and Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema (opposite him) as adjuncts to Queen Wilhelmina on her return to the continent, May 2, 1945.

Peter Tazelaar (light coat) and Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema (opposite him) as adjuncts to Queen Wilhelmina on her return to the continent, May 2, 1945.

It may seem ludicrous that anyone, even a top-notch secret agent, would manage to keep an elegant dinner suit completely dry and neat underneath a soaking wet diving suit. However, Peter Tazelaar, a member of the Dutch resistance and a spy who worked for the British Special Operations Executive, managed to do just that in November 1941, during a risky secret mission codenamed “Contact Holland.”

Queen Wilhelmina in 1948.

Queen Wilhelmina in 1948.

In June 1941, Tazelaar secretly traveled from the Netherlands to England to establish contact with British intelligence forces and Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, who had fled to England in 1940, and teamed up with Allied intelligence agencies to strengthen the Dutch resistance.

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Since many Dutch insurgents were stuck deep behind enemy lines in the occupied Netherlands, Tazelaar and a handful of others formed a covert operations team with the goal of traveling to the shores of the Netherlands and extracting as many Dutch resistance fighters as possible.

Scheveningen pier in The Hague, Netherlands. Photo by Marek Slusarczyk CC BY 3.0

Scheveningen pier in The Hague, Netherlands. Photo by Marek Slusarczyk CC BY 3.0

When the team approached the seaside resort of Scheveningen near the Dutch city of the Hague, Tazelaar and two others rowed to the shore in a small dinghy, then ditched the boat and swam for the last few hundred feet to avoid suspicion. Underneath his custom-made full-body swimming suit, which was designed to remain dry on the inside, Tazelaar was dressed in an evening suit with a white tuxedo not unlike the one worn by Bond.

Tazelaar (left) with Rie Stokvis and Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema in Breda on 2 May 1945. Photo by WIllem vand e Poll CC BY SA 2.0

Tazelaar (left) with Rie Stokvis and Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema in Breda on 2 May 1945. Photo by WIllem vand e Poll CC BY SA 2.0

When he removed the swimming suit, a member of the team gave him a bottle of Hennessy, which was his favorite liquor, and he purposely spilled some of the drink on his clothes so that he would reek of alcohol as though he had been drinking for hours.

Tazelaar managed to fool the guards stationed around the resort and infiltrate a party where he drank, gambled, danced, and finally rendezvoused with a fellow resistance fighter. The two mingled with the Nazi crowd for a while, and then stealthily slipped back towards the beach to meet the other members of Tazelaar’s team.

Peter Tazelaar (light coat) and Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema (opposite him) as adjuncts to Queen Wilhelmina on her return to the continent, May 2, 1945.

Peter Tazelaar (light coat) and Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema (opposite him) as adjuncts to Queen Wilhelmina on her return to the continent, May 2, 1945.

Several weeks later, Tazelaar tried to repeat the operation to extract another resistance fighter but was captured by the Nazi sentries who spotted him “wandering around” on the beach before trying to enter a hotel in Scheveningen. Fortunately, one of the prison guards was actually a disguised resistance fighter: he managed to convince the other guards that Tazelaar was a harmless local gambler with a penchant for drunk wandering, and Tazelaar was able to escape.

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When the intelligence officials learned of the daring and inventive ways in which Tazelaar accomplished his tasks during operation Contact Holland, he became somewhat of a celebrity. In 1944, he was awarded a Military William Order, the highest military honor in the Netherlands, for his role in the operation. After the war, he continued working in intelligence and even spent several years in the CIA. Just like the famous Agent 007, he was an awfully handsome gambler and adrenaline addict whose driving force was the constant search for dangerous adventures.