the truth About ru­dolf hess

THIS NEW STUDY EX­PLORES THE RISE AND IN­FA­MOUS FALL OF ONE OF HITLER’S CLOS­EST AL­LIES

History of War - - REVIEWS - JS

Au­thor: James Dou­glas-hamil­ton Pub­lisher: Front­line Books Price: £19.99

Early on the morn­ing of 11 May 1941, Adolf Hitler was hav­ing one of his ha­bit­ual tantrums. Ru­dolf

Hess’s ad­ju­tant Karl-heinz Pintsch had ar­rived at the Ber­cht­es­gaden, the führer’s Ea­gle’s Nest in the Bavar­ian Alps, bring­ing with him an as­ton­ish­ing let­ter from his boss. The man who in 1939 Hitler had des­ig­nated his se­cond-in-line as suc­ces­sor, after Her­mann Göring, had flown solo and unau­tho­rised to Bri­tain to try and ne­go­ti­ate a peace set­tle­ment be­tween both bel­liger­ents. His ob­jec­tive was to seek out the duke of Hamil­ton, the first man to fly over Mount Ever­est and the au­thor’s fa­ther. Hess main­tained the be­lief that Hamil­ton was in op­po­si­tion to the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment. It was in fact Hamil­ton who in­formed Win­ston Churchill of Hess’s ar­rival on Bri­tish soil.

No one in the Nazi hi­er­ar­chy was closer to Hitler than Hess. He shared Hitler’s im­pris­on­ment after the 1923 Mu­nich Beer Hall Putsch, it was to him that Hitler had dic­tated ‘Mein Kampf’, and in 1933 Hess had been ap­pointed deputy führer and min­is­ter with­out port­fo­lio. In his let­ter, Hess blithely in­formed Hitler that he con­sid­ered him­self emi­nently qual­i­fied to un­der­take this mis­sion. After all, he had been brought up in the Egyp­tian city of Alexan­dria, which was an English en­vi­ron­ment. After read­ing the let­ter ex­plain­ing Hess’s bizarre jour­ney, Hitler had a melt­down. Al­bert Speer, the Nazi ar­chi­tect, said he heard “an inar­tic­u­late, al­most an­i­mal shout”.

The ten­sion in James Dou­glas-hamil­ton’s book builds to high drama as he ex­plains how Hitler sum­moned the Nazi hi­er­ar­chy and asked the Luft­waffe Gen­eral Ernst Udet if Hess stood a chance of reach­ing his des­ti­na­tion in an Me 110, an air­craft of lim­ited range. The an­swer was neg­a­tive: the plane would surely come down in the sea. By this time, Hess had parachuted from his plane, which was nearly out of fuel, to come down in South La­nark­shire with an in­jured foot. Hitler im­me­di­ately had ev­ery­one on Hess’s staff thrown into prison, while the SS rounded up the per­son­nel at Augs­burg Air­port, Hess’s de­par­ture point for his quixotic flight. The tale then drifts into a gothic fan­tasy realm, when it is re­vealed that Hess had been as­so­ci­at­ing with as­trologers, na­ture ther­a­pists and an­thro­posophists, most of whom also landed in jail.

A lesser-known char­ac­ter who nev­er­the­less looms large in the book is Al­brecht Haushofer, a some­time For­eign Of­fice of­fi­cial of part-jew­ish an­ces­try and an op­po­nent of Hitler’s plan for war. While ex­am­in­ing cap­tured war doc­u­ments, the au­thor soon re­alised that Haushofer had un­wit­tingly played a cen­tral role in Hess’s flight. The tragic irony is that Haushofer’s in­volve­ment was ac­ci­den­tal and that his deep con­vic­tion was the cre­ation of a Euro­pean fed­er­a­tion through close Ger­man-bri­tish co­op­er­a­tion. This even in­cluded a joint mil­i­tary struc­ture. He was also keenly aware that noth­ing along these lines could be achieved while Hitler re­mained in power.

Haushofer’s as­so­ci­a­tion with Ger­man re­sis­tance groups was to cost him dearly. He was ar­rested after the failed 1944 at­tempt to as­sas­si­nate Hitler, in­car­cer­ated in Moabit prison, and on 22 April 1945, a week be­fore Hitler com­mit­ted sui­cide, Haushofer was ex­e­cuted by the SS. James Dou­glas-hamil­ton’s book does jus­tice to this hero of the Ger­man re­sis­tance and sheds new light on one of the most uncanny ex­ploits of World War II.

Ru­dolph Hess was Hitler’s clos­est ally be­fore his bizarre flight to Bri­tain in 1941

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