Charles Augustus Lindbergh, the only child of Swedish immigrant Charles August Lindbergh and Evangeline Lodge Lindbergh, was born in Detroit on 4th February, 1902. His father was a supporter of the Republican Party and in 1907 was elected to the House of Representatives.
His parents separated when he was a child and his mother became a chemistry teacher at Cass Technical High School. Lindbergh's education involved him studying in over twelve schools. This included schools in Michigan, California Washington and Minnesota.
Charles August Lindbergh was a strong opponent of America's entry into the First World War. Lindbergh argued that war had been declared for financial reasons and in 1917 he brought articles of impeachment against members of the Federal Reserve Board including Paul Warburg and William P. G. Harding. Lindbergh charged that the Federal Reserve Board members were involved "in a conspiracy to violate the Constitution and laws of the United States."
Lindbergh graduated from Little Falls High School in 1918. Lindbergh worked on the farm owned by his father's family before entering the University of Wisconsin. He did not stay long and left his studies to work for the Nebraska Aircraft Company. In 1923 Lindbergh joined the United States Air Service and by 1925 was a second lieutenant in the Reserves. The following year he began work as an airmail pilot between St Louis and Chicago.
Raymond Orteig, the owner of the Lafayette Hotel, announced that he was willing to pay $25,000 to the first person to fly nonstop between New York City and Paris, a distance of nearly 3,600 miles (5,800 km). Several well-known flying aces from the First World War tried to win the Orteig Prize. This included René Fonck who crashed on takeoff on 21st September, 1926, in a three-engine Sikorsky S-35. Charles Nungesser departed from France on 8th May, 1927, but he was never seen nor heard from again.
Lindbergh decided he would have an attempt on the prize. He obtained a $15,000 loan from the State National Bank of St. Louis and along with a $2,000 of his own savings and commissioned a custom built monoplane named Spirit of St Louis from the Ryan Aircraft Company of San Diego. Lindbergh left Curtiss Field on the morning of 20th May 1927 and took 33 hours for the 3,600 mile journey between the United States and France.
When Lindbergh arrived back in the United States President Calvin Coolidge awarded him the Distinguished Flying Cross. Over 4 million people lined the parade route in New York and the mayor, Jimmy Walker, pined the city's Medal of Valor upon him. Over the next few months Lindbergh helped promote aviation through the Guggenheim Foundation Fund. This involved visiting 92 cities and making 147 speeches.
Lindbergh married Anne Morrow, the daughter of Dwight Morrow on 27th May, 1929, and eventually had six children. On 1st March 1932, Lindbergh's baby son was kidnapped from his home in Hopewell, New Jersey. He was later found dead and Bruno Hauptmann, a German-born carpenter, was executed for the crime on 3rd April, 1936. Lindbergh and his wife were devastated by this event and decided to move to Europe in December 1935 in order to "seek a safe, secluded residence away from the tremendous public hysteria".
In 1936 Major Truman Smith, the American military attaché in Berlin, had a meeting with Air Minister, Hermann Goering, and his chief assistant, State Secretary Erhard Milch, and asked them if they would allow Charles Lindbergh to visit a number of air installations in Germany. They agreed and invited Lindbergh to visit Nazi Germany. Lindbergh wrote to his mother about the proposed trip: "Comparatively little is known about the present status of Aviation in Germany, so I am looking forward, with great interest, to going there. Even under the difficulties she has encountered since the war, Germany has taken a leading part in a number of aviation developments, including metal construction, low-wing designs, dirigibles, and Diesel engines. If it had not been for the war she would probably have produced a great deal more. On the other hand, if it had not been for the war it is doubtful whether aviation would be as far advanced as it is today."
According to A. Scott Berg, the author of Lindbergh (1998): "Charles followed a rigid military schedule, a succession of inspections. Accompanied by an assistant air attaché, Theodore Koenig, Lindbergh visited the Tempelhof civil airport, where he was permitted to pilot a Junkers (JU) 52, the Luftwaffe's standard bombardment plane, and the Hindenburg, a large four-motored experimental passenger plane. He spent a day with the Richthofen Geschwader (Wing), the elite fighter group of the Luftwaffe. One day he visited two Heinkel factories and saw their latest dive-bomber, medium bomber, fighter, and observation planes-all, Lindbergh found, of superb design. He spent another day at the Junker works at Dessau, where he saw their new JU 210 engine, a liquid-cooled engine far more advanced than he or Koenig had expected, and a JU 86, a low-wing, all-metal medium bomber already in mass production. Lindbergh spent another day at the German air research institute of Adlershof, where the scientists spoke freely of their work until he steered the conversation to the subject of rockets."
Lindbergh argued that "Europe, and the entire world, is fortunate that a Nazi Germany lies, at present, between Communistic Russia and a demoralized France. With the extremes of government which now exist, it is more desirable than ever to keep any one of them from sweeping over Europe. But if the choice must be made it can not be Communism." Lindbergh believed that the Germans were "especially anxious to maintain a friendly relationship with England" and that they had no "intention of attacking France for many years to come, if at all," and they seemed "to have a sincere desire for friendly relations with the United States, but of course that is much less vital to them."
Anne Lindbergh was also impressed with what Adolf Hitler had achieved. She wrote to her mother on 5th August, 1936, "I am beginning to feel, Hitler is a very great man, like an inspired religious leader - and as such rather fanatical - but not scheming, not selfish, not greedy for power, but a mystic, a visionary who really wants the best for his country and on the whole has rather a broad view." She argued that "strictly puritanical view at home that dictatorships are of necessity wrong, evil, unstable and no good can come of them - combined with our funny-paper view of Hitler as a clown - combined with the very strong (naturally) Jewish propaganda in the Jewish owned papers."
On 20th August, 1936, Lindbergh wrote a letter of thanks to General Hermann Goering: "It is always a pleasure to see good workmanship combined with vision in design and great technical ability. I have never been more impressed than I was with the aviation organizations I saw in Germany. I believe that the experimental laboratories which are being constricted will undoubtedly contribute very greatly to the progress of aviation throughout the world."
Major Truman Smith thanked Lindbergh for visiting Nazi Germany: "I don't believe anybody else in the world could have succeeded in doing what you did, pleasing everybody, both the German public and the American public." After the visit, Truman Smith observed, "Captain Koenig found himself in a privileged position in the attaché corps. In the ensuing twelve months, he visited more factories and airfields than any other foreign attaché, with the possible exception of the Swedes and the Italians."
When he arrived back in the United States he told his friends that he was impressed with what Hitler had achieved in the three years he had been in power. He told Harry Davison: "He is undoubtedly a great man, and I believe has done much for the German people. He is a fanatic in many ways, and anyone can see that there is a certain amount of fanaticism in Germany today. It is less than I expected, but it is there. On the other hand, Hitler has accomplished results (good in addition to bad), which could hardly have been accomplished without some fanaticism." To another friend he wrote: "While I still have many reservations, I have come away with a feeling of great admiration for the German people. The condition of the country, and the appearance of the average person whom I saw, leaves with me the impression that Hitler must have far more character and vision than I thought existed in the German leader who has been painted in so many different ways by the accounts in America and England." He told Harry Guggenheim: "There is no need for me to tell you that I am not in accord with the Jewish situation in Germany" but the "undercurrent of feeling" was "that the German Jews had been on the side of the Communists."
In October 1937 Lindbergh made a second visit. Lindbergh and Truman Smith became the first Americans to visit the Focke-Wulf factory in Bremen, where the "Germans demonstrated a model of a flying machine (a helicopter) that landed and took off vertically and was able to hover without any apparent movement; it could also fly backward or forward with good maneuverability in turning." Lindbergh later recalled: I have never seen a more successful demonstration of an experimental machine."
Ernst Udet of the Luftwaffe was authorized to show Lindbergh the Rechlin-Lärz Airfield air testing station in Pomerania. Truman Smith wrote: ""This was one of the most secret establishments in Germany, and so far as was then known, foreign attaches were barred." Lindbergh became the first American to examine in detail the Messerschmitt (ME) 109, the Luftwaffe's leading single-engine fighter, as well as the Dornier (DO) 17, its latest light bomber-reconnaissance airplane. He was also told about the development of the Messerschmitt 110, a twin-engined fighter with 1200 h.p. Daimler-Benz engines.
As a result of this visit Truman Smith wrote a report, "General Estimate (of Germany's Air Power) of November 1, 1937." The four-page survey included the following passage: "Germany is once more a world power in the air. Her air force and her air industry have emerged from the kindergarten stage. Full manhood will still not be reached for three years." He said that Germany had already outdistanced France in its technical development and had all but closed the gap on Great Britain. "A highly competent observer (Charles Lindbergh) estimated that if the present progress curves of (America and Germany) should continue as they have in the past two years, Germany should obtain technical parity with the USA by 1941 or 1942." Despite his report, Congress cut rather than increased War Department requests for appropriations for the Army Air Corps.
On 20th February, 1938, Adolf Hitler spoke to the Reichstag of the ten million Germans living just beyond his borders, suggesting his vision of an Anschluss. Three weeks later, the German Army marched into Austria. Lindbergh was already dreading the possibility that America and Germany might end up crossing swords. "If we fight, our countries will only lose their best men... We can gain nothing.... It must not happen."
The Lindberghs visited London and spent time with Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West at their home at Sissinghurst. Nicholson wrote in his diary: "Lindbergh is most pessimistic... should just give way and then make an alliance with Germany." He added that Lindbergh seemed to believe "in the Nazi theology, all tied up with his hatred of degeneracy and his hatred of democracy as represented by the free Press and the American public." Lindbergh had tea with David Lloyd George, who told him that war seemed inevitable and that the Nazi system was as bad as the Russian system. This upset Lindbergh as having visited both countries recently, he could not understand how Lloyd George did not "recognize any difference to England between an alliance with European Germany and Asiatic Russia. He apparently does not worry about the effect of Asia on European civilization."
The Lindberghs also stayed with Nancy Astor and her husband, Waldorf Astor at their home Cliveden, a large estate in Buckinghamshire on the River Thames. It was later claimed that they "shocked the life out of everyone by describing Germany's strength". On 5th October, 1938, Claud Cockburn reported in The Week, that Lindbergh had told a meeting of the Cliveden Set that the "German air force could take on and defeat, single handed, the British, French, Soviet and Czechoslovak air fleets" and that he "knew all about the Russian air force because, when in Moscow recently, he had been offered the post of head of the Soviet civil aviation administration". Prvada reprinted the article and denounced Lindbergh as a liar.
In November, 1938, Major Truman Smith arranged for Lindbergh to visit Nazi Germany again. Great controversy was caused when Lindbergh received a medal from Hermann Goering. Lindbergh later claimed that he had no idea it was going to happen: "Goring was the last to arrive. I was standing at the back of the room when lie came through the door, wearing a blue Luftwaffe uniform of new design. He seemed less stout than when I last saw him. Heads turned and conversation dropped as Ambassador Wilson advanced to meet his guest of honor. I noticed that Goring carried a red box and some papers in one hand. When he came to me he handed me the box and papers and spoke several sentences in German. I knew no German but I soon learned that he had presented me with the Order of the German Eagle, one of the highest decorations of the government by order of der Fuhrer", he said."
Lindbergh was roundly condemned for accepting the medal. The Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, asserted that anyone who accepts a decoration from Germany also "forfeits his right to be an American". The New Yorker on 26th November, 1938, commented: "With confused emotions we say goodbye to Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh, who wants to go and live in Berlin, presumably occupying a house that once belonged to Jews."
At the request of Joseph Kennedy, American ambassador in London, Lindbergh committed to paper the next day some of his comments regarding military aviation in Europe, so that they could be transmitted to both the White House and Whitehall. Kennedy promptly wired the bulk of the letter to Secretary of State Cordell Hull - including Lindbergh's estimates of German production and his conviction that "Germany now has the means of destroying London, Paris, and Prague if she wishes to do so. England and France together have not enough modern war planes for effective defence or counter-attack." Lindbergh added, "I am convinced that it is wiser to permit Germany's eastward expansion than to throw England and France, unprepared, into a war at this time."
Unknown to Lindbergh, General Hermann Goering did not share this view of the situation. On that very day Goering received a secret report from his own General Helmuth Felmy, who informed him that none of their bombers or fighters could "operate meaningfully" over England. "Given our present means," the report stated, "we can hope at best for a nuisance effect.... A war of annihilation against Britain appears to be out of the question."
Lindbergh argued strongly that "a westward expansion by Hitler might still be prevented through a combination of diplomacy, strategic convenience, and the use of defensive power." Lindbergh's worst fear was that "the potentially gigantic power of America, guided by uninformed and impractical idealism, might crusade into Europe to destroy Hitler without realizing that Hitler's destruction would lay Europe open to the rape, loot, and barbarism of Soviet Russia's forces, causing possibly the fatal wounding of Western civilization." He added "it seemed to me essential to France and England, and even to America, that Germany be maintained as a bulwark against the Soviet Union."
In September 1940, Lindbergh helped Burton K. Wheeler and Norman Thomas to form the America First Committee (AFC). I t soon became the most powerful isolationist group in the United States. The AFC had four main principles: (1) The United States must build an impregnable defense for America; (2) No foreign power, nor group of powers, can successfully attack a prepared America; (3) American democracy can be preserved only by keeping out of the European War; (4) "Aid short of war" weakens national defense at home and threatens to involve America in war abroad.
When Winston Churchill became prime minister in May 1940, he realised that it would be vitally important to enlist the United States as Britain's ally. Churchill appointed William Stephenson as the head of the British Security Coordination (BSC). As William Boyd has pointed out: "The phrase is bland, almost defiantly ordinary, depicting perhaps some sub-committee of a minor department in a lowly Whitehall ministry. In fact BSC, as it was generally known, represented one of the largest covert operations in British spying history... With the US alongside Britain, Hitler would be defeated - eventually. Without the US (Russia was neutral at the time), the future looked unbearably bleak... polls in the US still showed that 80% of Americans were against joining the war in Europe. Anglophobia was widespread and the US Congress was violently opposed to any form of intervention."
Stephenson was particularly concerned with the growth of the America First Committee. Stephenson later recalled that Lindbergh soon emerged as the leader of the isolationist movement and this was a particular problem as he was considered to be a national hero. In the summer of 1940 Charles Lindbergh made several critical speeches of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. After one particularly objectionable speech, he told Henry Morgenthau, "If I should die tomorrow, I want you to know this. I am absolutely convinced that Lindbergh is a Nazi." He wrote to Henry Stimson and claimed that: "When I read Lindbergh's speech, I felt that it could not have been better put if it had been written by Goebbels himself. What a pity that this youngster has completely abandoned his belief in our form of government and has accepted Nazi methods because apparently they are efficient."
Roosevelt was worried about the impact that Lindbergh was having on American public opinion. He decided to recruit J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI, in his campaign against Lindbergh. Roosevelt's attorney general, Robert Jackson commented, "The two men liked and understood each other." Roosevelt asked J. Edgar Hoover to investigate Charles Lindbergh, one of the leaders of the American First Committee. He willingly did so for he had been upset by Lindbergh's critical comments about the failures of the FBI investigation into the kidnapping and murder of his infant son. He also provided detailed reports on other isolationists such as Burton K. Wheeler, Gerald Nye and Hamilton Fish.
Roosevelt wrote to Hoover thanking him for this information. "I have intended writing you for some time to thank you for the many interesting and valuable reports that you have made to me regarding the fast moving situations of the last few months." Hoover replied on 14th June, 1940: "The letter is one of the most inspiring messages which I have ever been privileged to receive; and, indeed, I look upon it as rather a symbol of the principles for which our Nation stands. When the President of our country, bearing the weight of untold burdens, takes the time to express himself to one of his Bureau heads, there is implanted in the hearts of the recipients a renewed strength and vigor to carry on their tasks."
On 13th February, 1941, the President approved the establishment of "a small special intelligence and fact finding unit" that would be led by the journalist, John Franklin Carter. Carter later admitted: "The overall condition was attached to the operation by President Roosevelt that it should be entirely secret and would be promptly disavowed in the event of publicity... That year's military appropriations act included an Emergency Fund for the President, from which FDR transferred $10,000 to the State Department... to finance Carter, ostensibly by buying from him surveys on conditions in various countries, with Germany leading the list."
Adolf Berle was placed in charge of distributing the funds. On 20th February, Berle recorded: ""Jay Franklin (J.F. Carter) came in to see me today. He stated as a result of his conversation with the President and with you, and preparatory to the work he had been asked to do, he had spent some seven hundred dollars, and that he would be broke by the end of this week.... He wanted an advance of some kind against the compensation which he would eventually receive for his work. Accordingly I lent him seven hundred dollars.... I am not, of course, familiar with what the President has asked him to do, nor do I wish to be."
On 21st April, 1941, Rex Stout made a speech in New York City where he attacked the activities of Lindbergh: "I wish I could look you in the eye, Colonel Lindbergh, when I tell you that you simply don't know what it's all about.... A desperate war is being fought, and the winners of the war will win the oceans. No matter what we do, we shall be either one of the winners, or one of the losers; no shivering neutral will get a bite of anything but crow when the shooting stops. It would therefore seem to be plain imbecility not to go in with Britain and win.... Every fascist and pro-Nazi publication in America, without exception, applauds and approves of him.... Dozens of times in the past year he has been enthusiastically quoted in the newspapers of Germany and Italy and Japan."
Stout then went onto defend himself against the attacks he had received from America First Committee: "The America First Committee is calling people like me, who are convinced that we should go in with Britain now and win, a gang of warmongers.... If a 1941 warmonger is a man who advocates that we should immediately send warships and the men we have trained to sail them and shoot their guns, and airplanes and the boys we have trained to fly them and drop their bombs, send them to meet our acknowledged deadly enemy where he is, and attack him and defeat him, then count me in."
President Franklin D. Roosevelt was furious with Lindbergh after a speech he made on 23rd April, 1941, which included the following passage: "It is not only our right but it is our obligation as American citizens to look at this war objectively and to weigh our chances for success if we should enter it. I have attempted to do this, especially from the standpoint of aviation; and I have been forced to the conclusion that we cannot win this war for England, regardless of how much assistance we extend. I ask you to look at the map of Europe today and see if you can suggest any way in which we could win this war if we entered it. Suppose we had a large army in America, trained and equipped. Where would we send it to fight? The campaigns of the war. show only too clearly how difficult it is to force a landing, or to maintain an army, on a hostile coast."
On 11th September, 1941, Lindbergh made a controversial speech in Des Moines: "The three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war are the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt administration. Behind these groups, but of lesser importance, are a number of capitalists, Anglophiles and intellectuals who believe that their future, and the future of mankind, depends upon the domination of the British Empire... These war agitators comprise only a small minority of our people; but they control a tremendous influence... It is not difficult to understand why Jewish people desire the overthrow of Nazi Germany... But no person of honesty and vision can look on their pro-war policy here today without seeing the dangers involved in such a policy, both for us and for them. Instead of agitating for war, the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way, for they will be among the first to feel its consequences." Henry Ford showed his commitment to the America First Committee, by employing as a member of his executive staff.
Lindbergh speech resulted in some critics describing him as anti-Semitic. He recorded in his diary on 18th September that John T. Flynn, one of the leaders of the America First Committee paid him a visit: "John Flynn came at 11:00; and we talked the situation over for an hour. Flynn says he does not question the truth of what I said at Des Moines, but feels it was inadvisable to mention the Jewish problem. It is difficult for me to understand Flynn's attitude. He feels as strongly as I do that the Jews are among the major influences pushing this country toward war. He has said so frequently, and he says so now. He is perfectly willing to talk about it among a small group of people in private. But apparently he would rather see us get into the war than mention in public what the Jews are doing, no matter how tolerantly and moderately it is done."
According to Joseph E. Persico, the author of Roosevelt's Secret War (2001): "Within days, he delivered a fifty-page report for placement in the President's night time reading file. Thus armed, FDR was able to fire back when a reporter at a press conference asked him why Colonel Lindbergh had not been called to active duty. That was simple. Lindbergh, the President explained, was the equivalent of the arch-Civil War Copperhead Clement L. Vallandigham. The thrust drew blood. Lindbergh wrote FDR three days later resigning his commission as a colonel in the Army Air Corps Reserve. In Roosevelt's mind, his assignment to Carter had not been prompted by personal animus. Lindbergh, in FDR's eyes, was an enemy of his country, as dangerous as any fifth columnist, and had to be exposed."
President Roosevelt told Henry Morgenthau, "If I should die tomorrow, I want you to know this. I am absolutely convinced that Lindbergh is a Nazi." He wrote to Henry Stimson and claimed that: "When I read Lindbergh's speech, I felt that it could not have been better put if it had been written by Goebbels himself. What a pity that this youngster has completely abandoned his belief in our form of government and has accepted Nazi methods because apparently they are efficient." Roosevelt asked J. Edgar Hoover to keep a watch on him. He willingly did so for he had been upset by Lindbergh's critical comments about the failures of the FBI investigation into the kidnapping and murder of his infant son.
In 1941 Henry Ford showed his commitment to the America First Committee, by employing as a member of his executive staff. This caused great controversy when on 17th December, 1941, ten days after Pearl Harbour, Lindbergh made a speech where he argued: "There is only one danger in the world-that is the yellow danger. China and Japan are really bound together against the white race. There could only have been one efficient weapon against this alliance.... Germany.... the ideal setup would have been to have had Germany take over Poland and Russia, in collaboration with the British, as a bloc against the yellow people and Bolshevism. But instead, the British and the fools in Washington had to interfere. The British envied the Germans and wanted to rule the world forever. Britain is the real cause of all the trouble in the world today."
By the spring of 1941, the British Security Coordination estimated that there were 700 chapters and nearly a million members of isolationist groups. Leading isolationists were monitored, targeted and harassed. This was often done by the Fight for Freedom, a group funded by the BSC and led by Allen Dulles. For example, when Lindbergh, made speeches, thousands of handbills were handed out attacking him as an appeaser and Nazi lover.
The AFC influenced public opinion through publications and speeches and eventually had 450 local chapters and over 800,000 members. The AFC was dissolved four days after the Japanese Air Force attacked Pearl Harbor on 7th December, 1941. Hamilton Stuyvesan Fish later recalled: "Franklin Roosevelt took us into a war without telling the people anything about it. He served an ultimatum which we knew nothing about. We were forced into the war. It was the biggest cover-up ever perpetrated in the United States of America."
On 17th December, 1941, ten days after Pearl Harbor, Lindbergh made a speech where he argued: "There is only one danger in the world-that is the yellow danger. China and Japan are really bound together against the white race. There could only have been one efficient weapon against this alliance.... Germany.... the ideal setup would have been to have had Germany take over Poland and Russia, in collaboration with the British, as a bloc against the yellow people and Bolshevism. But instead, the British and the fools in Washington had to interfere. The British envied the Germans and wanted to rule the world forever. Britain is the real cause of all the trouble in the world today."
Lindbergh sought to be recommissioned in the USAAF, but the Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, under instructions from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, declined the request. Instead he joined United Aircraft and in 1944 he became the company's technical representative in the Pacific Theater of Operations. In his six months in the Pacific in 1944, Lindbergh took part in fighter bomber raids on Japanese positions, flying about 50 combat missions against the Japanese Air Force.