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The British Believed That the Nazis Organised Cycling Tours as a Cover for Spying

By Monica Buck

It all started with an article in a German-written newspaper printed for Germans living in Prague. The piece quoted detailed advice given by the German National Union for Physical Culture. It was aimed at cyclists going on tours abroad, and you can clearly see why the Brits were ‘displeased’.

“Impress on your memory the roads and paths, villages and towns, outstanding church towers and other landmarks so that you will not forget them. Make a note of the names of places, rivers, seas and mountains. Perhaps you may be able to utilise these sometime for the benefit of the Fatherland. Should you come to a bridge which interests you, examine the construction and the materials used. Learn to measure and estimate the width of streams. Wade through fords so that you will be able to find them in the dark.”

That is how the advice was reprinted in the Daily Herald in May 1937. The head of MI5 at that time, Vernon Kell, wrote to the Home Office the same month about a tour the Hitlerjugend were planning to do in cooperation with Boy Scouts in the South of England. The British Intelligence monitored the Nazi Youth closely that summer, making sure all possibly confidential work and information were safeguarded. Unlike MI5, however, the hosts of Hitlerjugend seemed unfazed by the possibility of spying.

Hitler Youth, Germany, Circa 1933 © Profimedia, Zuma Press – News

“A jolly good crowd of chaps,” the Telegraph quotes one of the English boys, who was questioned by an Intelligence officer at that time.

“Attempts were made to teach them [Hitlerjugend] soccer and cricket with varying degrees of successes,” states one of the MI5 reports. “In an athletic meet they won the javelin throwing and weight putting but the Rydal boys [British youth] were successful in the other events. Evidently British cooking appealed to them for they are reported to have done ample justice to school fare. Swopping’ naturally was indulged in and many black German caps are now reposing upon unfamiliar Rydal heads.”

As you can probably guess from this sort of report, the Nazi youth did not pose a serious spying threat for Great Britain after all. As was probably the case with adult German cyclists. However, the playful fair-haired chaps running around with a football did not fool the British Intelligence. They kept monitoring the Hitlerjugend and towards the end of the war, they found what rubbed them wrong about them. Their chilling, yet spot-on description from the year of 1944 follows.

“The Hitler Youth [Hitlerjugend] is not a Boy Scout or Girl Guide organisation. It is in no respect comparable to any organisation for young people known to the Western World. It is a compulsory Nazi formation, which has consciously sought to breed hate, treachery and cruelty into the mind and soul of every German child. It is, in the true sense of the word, ‘education for death.’”