LONDON - Clouds of war were gathering over Europe, and the English police officer was concerned. A group of black-clad Germans had been spotted heading for London - by bicycle.
Newly declassified British intelligence files reveal the ripples of alarm that spread through the country as Hitler Youth cyclists toured Britain in 1937. Reports of sightings poured in from local police amid fears the teenagers might be spies scouting the country for a future invasion.
“The general image of fit young Germans with blond hair and leather shorts cycling through parts of England where nothing much had happened for years created quite a stir,’’ said Christopher Andrew, author of the official history of MI5, Britain’s domestic espionage service.
The Hitler Youth group aimed to instill the Nazis’ racist and xenophobic ideals into young Germans, through a mix of indoctrination, outdoor activities, and military-style training. Before World War II, members of the group visited Britain, and MI5 documents released today by the National Archives show that its leaders sought closer ties with the Boy Scout movement.
One memo, sent by police Superintendent T. Dawson of Spalding, central England, to his superiors, is headed “Party of young Germans en route for London.’’
Organized groups of Hitler Youth toured other nations in the 1930s that eventually became the victims of Nazi aggression, such as Belgium, the Netherlands and Yugoslavia. They reportedly took part in reconnoitering roads and bridges and in other activities that helped the Nazis map their invasion routes.