The 1936 Summer Olympics, known as the Games of the XI Olympiad, was not just about athletic supremacy but was to become a showcase for Adolph Hitler’s National Socialist Party’s ideals. It was the perfect stage for the Nazis to show the world the superiority of the Aryan race. The so-called Third Reich had gone to great lengths in hosting both the preparation and the running of the games, much to the International Olympic Committee’s chagrin. Prior to the Games, there had been considerable debate outside Germany over whether the competition should go ahead. The IOC selected Berlin as the host city in 1931, but following Adolph Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, observers in many countries protested the morality of an Olympic Games hosted by the Nazi regime. The protesters were unsuccessful in their campaign as the Amateur Athletic Union of the United States voted to compete in the Berlin Games and most of the other countries followed suit.
The Germans spared no effort or expense, making the event the best ever staged by building a new hundred thousand-seat track and field stadium with many other smaller arenas. Hitler saw the Games as a great opportunity to promote his government and ideals of racial supremacy and the official Nazi party paper, The Volkischer Beobachter, wrote in the strongest terms that Jews and black people should not take part in the Games. However, this news made the other nations threaten a boycott. Hitler relented and allowed black people and Jews to take part, adding just one token participant to the German team, a woman athlete named Helene Mayer who had a Jewish father. The party removed signs stating “Jews not wanted” and similar slogans from the city’s main tourist attractions. To clean up Berlin, the German Ministry of the Interior authorised the chief of police to arrest all gypsies and keep them in a special camp outside the city. It all smacked of a gigantic cover up.
Johnny, disturbed by what he had seen earlier at the station, suffered a restless night, and rose early the next morning to go for a walk in the streets of Berlin to clear his head. He was walking past the entrance to a local railway station when he went in and buy a newspaper. Finding a newsstand, he paid a few pfennigs and bought a copy of the Berliner Illustriete Zeitung. Entering the station buffet, he ordered a strong black coffee and sat down among early morning travellers eating their breakfasts.
Drinking his coffee he flipped through the newspaper’s pages, translating the words, as he was fluent in German, a language he had enjoyed learning at school. The paper was full of Nazi Party propaganda and the forthcoming opening of the Olympic Games when an article heading in heavy block typeset caught his eye:
The Luftwaffe’s new wonder fighter put through its paces!
Johnny began reading.
Yesterday, our glorious Air Force showed to the world what its new wonder fighter could do. Although in the morning the clouds over Tempelhof Airport were heavy and low, the grey ceiling lifted enough by midday to allow the aeroplane to show off its paces. Representatives from other country’s Air Ministry’s, air enthusiasts, reporters and even Charles Lindberg, who had made the first solo transatlantic flight, were in attendance. The 109 fighter started up and taxied out towards the runway, resplendent in its glossy green-grey finish, the red, white and black Nazi flag on her tail and with the bold black registration letters D-IUDE emblazoned on the sides of the fuselage.
Looking at the accompanying photograph of the new German fighter, Johnny realised that her designer Willy Messerschmitt had based his design on a similar concept that Reginald Mitchell had used to design the Spitfire Prototype, which he had seen fly at Hendon earlier in the year. Both machines were single-seat, all metal stressed-skin, low wing monoplanes, shrugging off the top wing of their bi-plane predecessors. However, the Spitfire was sleek and graceful with its broad, elliptical shaped wings and long pointed nose. The Messerschmitt 109 was all-German, trim with its narrow wings, angular with its blunt nose and square glasshouse cockpit, a vicious looking beauty!
Johnny continued reading:
With a roar from its engine the new fighter accelerated down the runway, its tail came up and after a short run climbed into the sky, the spindly gear retracted cleanly and any hint of awkwardness vanished. The assembled crowd looked up as the pilot took the aeroplane through a few tight turns, then climbed up high beneath the cloud base, stood it on its narrow, squared wingtip and closed the throttle. An intake of bated breath from the spectators below filled the silence the engine left behind as the pilot stalled the fighter and it gently dropped a wing and fell into a spin. Once, twice, the spin continued five, six….eleven, twelve, the silence now was deafening on the ground as the aeroplane tumbled downwards, spiral after spiral...eighteen, nineteen, and just as the crowd thought it would impact with the ground, the power came back on and the 109 pulled out of its twentieth spin and climbed back to altitude. The reporter concluded that throughout the whole spin, there was no regaining control of the 109, for it had never been out of control to begin with!
Johnny looked closely at the other photographs accompanying the article, realising that the new fighter was not in the guise of something else, unlike previous aeroplanes of the new Luftwaffe. There was no pretending this was a fast mail plane or a quick passenger plane. This machine was definitely an all-purpose built fighter, with its inverted V-type engine leaving plenty of room inside the top cowling to install guns in the two long grooves on top. He knew that this contravened the Treaty of Versailles, drawn up by the victorious Allies after Germany’s defeat in the Great War, with one of its articles forbidding Germany to have an air force The limitations imposed on Germany by the Treaty were now visibly being flouted by Hitler and his National Socialist party.
Johnny thought about the forthcoming Olympics, a gathering meant to unite the peoples of the world through fair, competitive sport. Yet Germany seemed intent on flexing its muscles and expanding its fighting forces, while England continued with its long period of appeasement.
He folded the newspaper and put it in his pocket to show Anthony Barker when he got back to the hotel. As he got up to leave, a group of Germans entered the buffet. From their loud, guttural conversations he realised they were part of a government sponsored tourist union bearing a title that could only exist in National Socialist Germany, “Strength through Joy.” The tourists were all healthy looking young men dressed alike in poorly fitting suits, sporting matching short back and side haircuts and carrying similar cardboard suitcases. It seemed to Johnny an odd state of affairs that their vacation was timed with the Olympics about to begin in Berlin.