Fears for the worst as 10,000 Spitfires head for Germany

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2nd Lieutenant
Nov 3, 2004
Praga Mater Urbium
Fears for the worst as 10,000 Spitfires head for Germany

The last time they flew across the Channel, they were 32 feet long, with Rolls-Royce engines and wings bristling with 20mm cannons.

Now they measure all of 18 inches, have no engine and not so much as a peashooter - but their "pilots" still risk being thrown into German captivity.

The Sunday Telegraph has learnt that a "big wing" of more than 10,000 inflatable Spitfires will this week cross into Germany and, when the World Cup starts on Friday, they could face the kind of frosty reception encountered by their wartime counterparts.

England football fans have been warned of arrest by the British Home Secretary, threatened with "zero tolerance" by a German police chief, and told not to mention the war by the creator of Basil Fawlty himself.

Some have responded by packing inflatable Spitfires by the thousand into their camper vans to sell throughout Germany and finance their World Cup trips.

Alf Ancell, 31, who designed the Spitfires, admitted he had found plenty of fans willing to sell the planes in Germany.

"I got 10,000 Spitfires in a couple of months ago and I am now down to my last 2,000 and expecting to sell the remainder.

"It's not a link to the War," he insisted. "It's just an English symbol of victory. They look like flags when you hold them aloft. I don't see how that can be inflammatory."

Planning to sell them on campsites, in beer tents, and on beaches, Fred Arnold, Andy Mitchel and Terry Dorell last week vowed never to surrender their blow-up Spitfires until the buyer paid £5. The three have packed their VW camper van with more than 1,000 Spitfires, bought for £3.75 each on a sale-or-return basis, and will this week be selling them to fellow fans all over Germany.

"They're original and brilliant," enthused Mr Dorell about the miniature fighters decorated with St George's Crosses and camouflage patterns. "They may not like it in Germany," he added. "but who gives a sausage?"

The answer, it seems, starts with John Cleese, the German and British police forces, the Home Office - not to mention RAF veterans plus television producers who may not relish deciding what to do when the camera pans to thousands of Spitfire-waving fans.

Cleese, famous for screaming "Don't mention the war" as a goose-stepping Basil Fawlty, has condemned the "ridiculous anti-German prejudices" of his comic creation.

Before he was sacked as home secretary in May, Charles Clarke told the 100,000 England fans expected to visit Germany that glorifying the country's Nazi past is a criminal offence and that brandishing inflatable Spitfires could land them in trouble. "It's not a joke, it is not a comic thing," he said.

Asst Chief Constable Stephen Thomas, who is heading the delegation of 82 British police officers in Germany, admitted that the Spitfire issue was "tricky".

"The Germans," he said, "have a sense of humour. It's not a criminal offence to sell or display these items, but we have real concerns about how people might behave once they have a bit to drink. It could step over into insulting or threatening behaviour."

At the German embassy, optimism was the defensive strategy of choice. "Let's wait and see," said a spokesman. "Maybe they won't inflate these toys."

• Fans have been told not to travel without measles vaccinations because an epidemic has infected more than 1,300 people in Germany this year. One area is North Rhine Westphalia, which includes two cities hosting the World Cup Cologne and Dortmund.

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