DAY HITLER’S DEPUTY FLED TO BRITAIN
Rudolf Hess parachuted on to a duke’s land 75 years ago this week on a bizarre one-man peace mission
IDaily Express Thursday May 12 2016 T WAS exactly 10.45pm when David MacLean first heard the sound of an aircraft just above his cottage in the village of Waterfoot, seven miles south of Glasgow. The plane was flying so low that the china ornaments on the mantelpiece in his bedroom trembled at the roar of its engines.
The noise receded but then grew louder again as the pilot turned back the way he had come before the drone of its engine abruptly cut out altogether. Clearly something had gone wrong. MacLean, a stocky head ploughman employed by the nearby Floors Farm, peered out into the darkness and as his eyes grew accustomed to the moonlit gloom he made out something white in the sky. It was the canopy of a descending parachute.
As someone who had spent months listening to RAF planes flying overhead, MacLean knew immediately that the unfamiliar drone he had heard could mean only one thing: the man floating to earth would be German.
By the time he got to the field adjoining his house where the pilot had landed he was already staggering to his feet. “I am Hauptmann Alfred Horn,” said the tall, wellbuilt man in heavily accented English. “I want to go to Dungavel House. I have an important message for the Duke of Hamilton.”
Horn was an alias, of course. His leather flying suit, handmade furlined flying boots, gold watch and air of authority marked him out as much more than a humble captain. He was in fact Adolf Hitler’s righthand man Rudolf Hess. It is 75 years this week since he flew to Britain and the story of his bizarre one-man peace mission is told in gripping detail in a book by former Daily Express reporter James Leasor that has been re-released to coincide with the anniversary.
Leasor, who died in 2007, interviewed almost all the key players in the drama, including MacLean and the Duke of Hamilton, and his gripping account goes to show once again that truth is stranger than fiction.
Hess, 47 at the time, had long been one of Hitler’s closest confidants when he boarded the prototype Messerschmitt Bf 110 fitted with long-range fuel tanks that would take him the 800 miles to Scotland on May 10, 1941.
HE HAD been by Hitler’s side in 1923 when the Nazis made a failed attempt to take over the government of Bavaria via the notorious Beer Hall Putsch. And as the two men languished in prison after being convicted of high treason, it was Hess who dutifully took dictation of much of Hitler’s infamous manifesto Mein Kampf. Ten years later his loyalty earned him the title deputy führer.
However, following the outbreak of war Hitler became more and more concerned with the conduct of the conflict and Hess was increasingly marginalised with many of his duties being taken over by Martin Bormann. This did not stop Hess worrying about his old friend’s strategy. The prospect of the Nazis opening a second front with the Soviet Union via Operation Barbarossa pencilled in for the spring of 1941 preyed on his mind. Much better, he thought, to make peace with the British before taking on the Russians.
As early as September 1940 he asked his friend Albrecht Haushofer, a geographer and diplomat who had travelled widely, to nominate a high-ranking Englishman with whom he might negotiate.
In a personal memo quoted in Leasor’s book, Haushofer recalled that he proposed a number of diplomat friends before adding the name of a Scottish aristocrat: “As the final possibility I mentioned a personal meeting on neutral soil with the closest of my English friends: the young Duke of Hamilton, who has access at all times to all important persons in London, even to Churchill and the King.”
Hess liked the idea of meeting the dashing duke. Like him, Hamilton was an aviator who had become the first person to fly over Mount Everest less than a decade earlier.
And so it was that after a final check of the weather reports for Germany and the North Sea, Hess took off from a Bavarian airfield bound for the duke’s family seat. As we have seen, it was a journey that ended in him being apprehended by a Scottish ploughman 12 miles short of his planned destination. MacLean handed over Hess to his next-door neighbour Mr Clark, a member of the Home Guard who turned up wearing a tin hat and toting a First World War vintage Webley revolver.
Describing his arrest later in a letter to his wife, Hess wrote: “A civil official appeared at the head of a troop of soldiers, a man who had quite evidently, judging by the smell, been celebrating Saturday with good Scottish spirits, probably having taken an extra shot when he heard that a German parachutist had come down.
“He staggered about in a cloud of alcoholic vapour, marching me off and prodding me all the while in the back, with a large revolver, his finger never leaving the trigger. As I listened to his incessant belching and stumbling, I felt there must have been the finger of God intervening between his shaking hand and the impending shot.”
Hess was taken to the local Home Guard HQ, a Scout hall, where he was searched. He was found to be carrying an envelope addressed to the Duke of Hamilton, a syringe and a box containing an assortment of homeopathic drugs. One was an elixir prepared by Tibetan monks to cure gall-bladder complaints, the others included various vitamin concoctions, some glucose tablets and sedatives.
APART from his clothes the only other possessions he had were his watch, a camera and several photographs of himself and his four-year old son. Soon an army truck arrived to take Hess to secure accommodation at Maryhill Barracks in Glasgow. It was there that Hess was granted his much-anticipated meeting with the Duke of Hamilton but it did not go as well as he would have hoped.
The two men had been introduced at the Olympic Games in Berlin five years earlier but the duke failed to recognise him and had even asked a disconsolate Hess if he could prove he was who he said he was. After inspecting the wreckage of the Messerschmitt the duke became more convinced of Hess’s bona fides, however, and arranged to see Churchill by pleading “a matter of the utmost urgency”.
After breaking his news to the prime minister, the duke told Leasor: “Churchill looked at me as though I was out of my mind.” But he did take the duke seriously enough to send him back to Scotland in the company of Ivone Kirkpatrick, a director in the Ministry of Information who had met Hess and could thus establish once and for all whether he was the real thing.
Hitler’s deputy went on to be tried at Nuremberg and while he was found not guilty of war crimes or crimes against humanity he was sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against peace and conspiracy. Hess was transferred to Spandau Prison in West Berlin and it was there that he hanged himself with a lamp extension cord at the age of 93 in 1987.