If you were to imagine Nazi spies, you would perhaps picture tall German men wearing overcoats and maybe a hat to conceal their faces, or maybe beautiful and charming German women who were taught of espionage. 

But, in the summer of 1937, The UK has become a key target for espionage for the Germans who wanted to gather intelligence in the region. What they did not expect was that the spies they were looking for were a group of seemingly innocent teenage boys cycling around town.

Just Some Cyclists…

A declassified British intelligence revealed that the Hitler Youth cyclists in the UK caused alarm and fear when numerous reports poured into the local police claiming these youngsters were actually “spyclists”  who were believed to be scouted by the Nazis to help plot invasion. 

Hitler Youth members at a Nazi rally. (Wide World Photo via encyclopedia.ushmm.org)

As the author of the official history of MI5, Christopher Andrew wrote,

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.

Apparently, these young men were recruited by the Hitler Youth program— a group that aimed to instill the racist and xenophobic ideas and beliefs of Nazism into young Germans through indoctrination, outdoor activities, and military-style training. Before World War II, the members of the program visited the UK and tried to develop closer ties with the Boy Scout organization. This is where the groundworks were assumed to have started. 

Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts organization, had met with German Ambassador Joachim von Ribbentrop. It was reported by the Daily Herald, the paper that coined “Spyclists,” that the meetings aimed to find routes where the spyclists could transfer encrypted messages faster. 

“Impress on your memory the roads and paths, villages and towns, outstanding church towers and other landmarks so that you will not forget them,” the paper wrote. “Make a note of the names of places, rivers, seas and mountains. Perhaps you should be able to utilise these sometime for the benefit of the Fatherland … Wade through fords so that you will be able to find them in the dark.”