The Rudolph Hess Affair, Mysterious Britain
lane was heard passing overhead. Shortly afterwards an explosion was heard, and Home Guard member David McLean went out with his pitchfork to investigate. He found the pilot, a middle aged man who claimed to be Captain Albert Horn, who had parachuted safely to earth, though he had broken an ankle in the process. The wreckage of an ME Bf 110 was found the next day.
Horn, in reality Rudolf Hess, Deputy Fuhrer of Germany, asked to be taken to the Duke of Hamilton, who lived nearby. He repeated the request when Daniel McBride and Emyr Morris arrived to take the prisoner into custody.
The reasons behind one of the strangest events of WWII are still hotly debated, and theories abound as to the true situation. Hess claimed he had wanted to arrange a cessation of hostilities between Britain and Germany, and create an alliance against the Soviet Union. Was he a madman, as some of his captors came to believe? His behaviour early on in captivity was erratic, his conviction that he was to be poisoned growing daily.
Hess, who had become a pilot at the end of the previous conflict, had flown himself. His staff was arrested, but not purged, and his wife given a pension by Hitler, who received the news of his flight with equanimity. Many take this as evidence Hess was not acting alone, others as proof to the contrary. McBride later stated he knew that powerful figures in the British government expected Hess. The question of why no action had been taken to intercept the plane is still relevant. Why too was no alert signalled in Glasgow as an unidentified enemy plane flew over the city?
The situation in Britain in 1941 was not the united front that propaganda would have the public believe at that time. The king, George VI, had a personal dislike of Churchill, and had wanted Lord Halifax as Prime Minister. Churchill was very aware that the appeasers in his own Tory Party had been numerous before he came to power, and that many remained convinced that agreeing a peace with Germany was the only sensible course of action. Churchill disagreed, or so it seems right to think. There is strong suspicion, however, that tentative talks had taken place in Sweden between the Dunkirk evacuation and Hess’s flight, although if this is the case why would Hess have made his flight to seek a peace agreement? Others have said that Hamilton and Hess had met in Spain and Portugal in 1941 to negotiate.
Hess was interrogated in Glasgow, his identity hidden – he was prisoner ‘Jonathan’ to all except a few in the know. A psychiatrist, Brigadier John Rees, examined him and stated he was mentally ill, but not insane.
Whatever the thinking behind his mission, Hess had it seems little impact on Churchill, either in making him think of ending the war, or in providing information.
At the end of the war Hess was tried at Nuremburg, and sentenced to life imprisonment. He died in 1987, having for years been the last prisoner in Spandau, East Berlin, where he was guarded by men from all the allied powers. To add to the mystery, there are even claims that the prisoner of Spandau was not Hess. Whoever he was, he died in 1987, after a suicide attempt using some electrical wire.
Some records relating to Hess and his landing were released in 1999, but historians are eagerly awaiting further disclosures when more papers are due for publication, though as these will not see the light until 2017 there is some waiting to do yet.