Kiwi lad from Moteuka was offered $100 million to kill Hitler

Breakfast 28/11/2017

You may never have heard the name of Kiwi Arthur Clouston, but 80 years ago he was one of the most famous people on the planet.

He was once offered a dangerous job that could have changed the course of the 20th century - and possibly would have avoided World War II.

Born in Motueka at the top of the South Island, Clouston was fascinated by the burgeoning aviation industry and learned to fly at the Marlborough Aero Club near Blenheim.

After being rejected from joining the Royal New Zealand Air Force because of his high blood pressure, he moved to the UK to seek out a career in aviation.

Once on the other side of the world, Clouston was rejected from the Royal Flying Corps (RAF) several times, until medical examiners determined Clouston's blood pressure actually dropped while he was flying.

The Kiwi was finally accepted into the RAF in 1930 and quickly found his wings, achieving rapid promotion and becoming one of Britain's top pilots.

After five years in the military, Clouston was offered and accepted a role as a test pilot flying fast and experimental planes.

He also took up the dangerous pastime of air racing, and won several trophies while breaking world records for long distance flying.

By 1938, Clouston, who was usually called British by the adoring British public and press, was offered a flight that would've changed not only his life, but the fate of the entire world.

In his book The Dangerous Skies, published in 1954, Clouston revealed he had been secretly approached by a multi-millionaire industrialist to fly to Berlin and bomb Adolf Hitler.

Clouston had just flown into Farnborough, Hampshire, after a test flight, when he says he was approached in the middle of the airstrip by a man claiming to be a well-known millionaire.

Clouston describes the man as being a Jewish industrialist who wanted to kill the anti-Semitic leader of Nazi Germany.

He presented 30-year-old Clouston with a very detailed plan:

Clouston was to disguise his de Havilland DH-88 Comet (in which he completed the first ever round trip from the UK to NZ) and attach two small, highly explosive bombs to it.

Taking off from an innocuous grass airstrip in the English county of Yorkshire, Clouston would fly his disguised Comet east over the North Sea, before tracking south over the Baltic to fly into Berlin.

Hitler was scheduled to appear in a public parade in Berlin and was known to always travel in one of the front two cars.

Clouston would have to time his bombing run with the parade, release the bombs above the front two cars before making a hasty getaway back to the UK, or diverting to a prepared airstrip in Sweden if anything went wrong.

The Kiwi was asked to name his price, and he came up with the enormous sum of £1 million (about NZ$100 million in today's money), which to Clouston's surprise, was accepted by the millionaire industrialist.

So why didn't the Kiwi take up the offer?

It's easy to sit back some eight decades after the war and criticise Clouston for not taking on what would have been a very dangerous but lucrative mission.

But remember World War II hadn't yet begun in 1938, and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had personally met with Hitler that same year to try and keep the peace in Europe.

Clouston claims that he wasn't aware of Hitler's wrongdoings at this point, and could not carry out the bombing raid with a clear conscience as it would be an act of murder.

Clouston also writes that he had no first-hand knowledge of Hitler's persecution of the Jews - and suggested to the industrialist that perhaps a Jewish pilot should carry out the mission.

The Kiwi says he was also convinced that the Germans would leave no stone unturned as they hunted down the man responsible for the death of their beloved Führer.

Clouston had a wife and children; he didn't want to spend the rest of his life in fear of a revenge killing on him or his family.

Was the story true, or was Clouston telling a tall tale?

"It's absolutely 100 percent true, it wasn't a tale," aviation historian Wayne Sellwood told Newshub.

"He wasn't the sort of guy who told tales, and in fact he was really quite straight up and down, and that attitude came through in how he dealt with various issues over the years. [The raid] was highly probable at the time.

"And of course there were a number of people in high positions in England, industrialists and so on, who had sympathies related to the idea of getting rid of Hitler at the earliest opportunity, so it doesn't seem out of context that he would have been approached at that time."

Read the full yarn over at Newshub.