SAN FRANCISCO -- Charles A. Lindbergh, often branded as a Nazi sympathizer during World War II, gathered intelligence for the United States on four visits to Germany before the war, according to papers of the pre-war U.S. military attache in Berlin.
The late Col. Truman Smith, who was America's military representative in Berlin between 1935 and 1939, disclosed in papers recently published by the Hoover Institution that Lindbergh provided crucial and detailed data on the Luftwaffe's planes and Hitler's aircraft manufacturing facilities.
As for the highly publicized incident in which Nazi Field Marshal Hermann Goering presented Lindbergh with a medal in 1938, the papers disclose that neither Smith nor Lindbergh had any advance knowledge of Goering's plan.
Robert Hessen, who edited the Smith papers, said even if they had been alerted 'Lindbergh would not have been able to refuse the medal without offending.' Smith and Lindbergh did not want to offend Goering at that time because they needed his favor 'if they wanted to see more of the German Air Force.'
Another reason Lindbergh did not want to annoy Goering, Smith's papers said, was that he hoped to persuade Goering 'that German Jews who were emigrating should not be forced to leave penniless.'
Lindbergh became a hero when he made the first non-stop flight from New York to Paris in the 'Spirit of St. Louis' in 1927. He was again in the news when his young son was kidnapped and killed in 1932.
Many American politicians and commentators, such as columnist Walter Winchell, accused Lindbergh of exaggerating Germany's military power in order to frighten the Allies into believing the Luftwaffe was invincible. Because of his deep distaste for publicity of any kind, he never tried publicly to clear himself of the pro-Nazi charges during the war.
Smith, who had also been labeled pro-Nazi, likewise 'wanted to put the whole thing out of his mind since it inevitably brought with it memories of the miseries of the Washington years,' according to his widow, Katharine A. H. Smith, who now lives in Fairfield, Conn.
She said in an interview with Hessen that she persuaded her husband in the mid-1950s to write a report on the Lindbergh matter because it 'would be the only way to set the record straight for future historians.'
Smith wrote that before World War II, American military intelligence had no undercover agents in Germany and relied solely on the Berlin attache and his two aides to keep tabs on the rapidly growing German forces.
Because Smith himself was busy assessing Germany's growing army and its Panzer divisions, he decided to recruit Lindbergh to make an assessment of Luftwaffe. He correctly judged that Goering would be delighted to show the world's most renowned flier his new toys.
Lindbergh actually made four visits to Germany. At the end of at least two of them he helped Smith write detailed reports for G-2 military intelligence in Washington. These reports described aircraft not shown to any other foreigners and factories and airfields from which all other American, French and English visitors were banned.
Lindbergh was allowed to inspect in detail new and experimental German warplanes such as the Junkers 52 bomber and the Messerschmidt 109 fighter plane, and even allowed to fly some of them, Smith writes. The data supplied by Lindbergh on these aircraft and installations proved to be extremely accurate.
Smith wrote that Lindbergh not only collected important data for U.S. intelligence but made it possible for the American air attache in Berlin, a trained intelligence officer, to visit numerous bases and factories that were otherwise off limits.
Besides collecting a great deal of new information in the field, Smith wrote that Lindbergh's prestige in America gave more credibility to the warnings of Hitler's growing power, even though these warnings won for him the contempt of people who refused to believe that Germany could challenge her European neighbors.
After Lindbergh's inspections, Smith wrote, the fact 'of a fantastic German air buildup could no longer be discounted.'