It’s 10 May 1941, nearly 2 years into World War II. It’s a desperate time for the British, standing alone against Nazi Germany who had taken the European continent and were within binocular sight 22 miles straight across the English Channel. Still feeling the effects of a winter in which their cities were bombed night after night, the Brits were on their last legs. A weary cigar-smoking, hard-drinking Prime Minister Winston Churchill was facing fierce criticism from parliament, his own cabinet, and the voting public. His opponents wanted him to give into Adolf Hitler, let him take Europe and sign a negotiated peace to end the bloodshed.
That same day, Nazi Deputy Fuehrer Rudolf Hess, an accomplished pilot, left Augsburg, Germany in his personal Messerschmitt Bf-110 and crossed the North Sea. At 11 PM, under the cover of darkness, in addition to a massive German bombing raid on London, he parachuted from his aircraft about 30 miles south of Glasgow, Scotland, following a flight of more than 1,000 miles. Quickly taken into custody, he gave his name as Captain Alfred Horn and demanded to be taken to RAF Wing Commander Duke of Hamilton, whose country estate, Dungavel Castle, was in the vicinity. Actually, only 10 miles away. (Hess and other Germans had reason to believe that Hamilton had strong connections to a British appeaser group who were seeking to overthrow Prime Minister Churchill in favor of someone more sympathetic to the Nazi cause. Hess was good friends with Geopolitics Professor Karl Haushofer, Hess’s Munich University teacher after World War I, and Haushofer’s son, Albrecht, who had known Hamilton prior to 1939).
Upon seeing Hamilton in person, Hess then claimed to be the Nazi Deputy Fuehrer and said he was on a one-man mission of peace to save Great Britain and the world from annihilation. He insisted that no one in Germany knew he was coming. Stunned by the events, the British held him under close guard, then finally released the information to the press 2 days later, where it made front page headlines with the Glasgow Daily Record. The world was shocked. In Germany, Adolf Hitler supposedly blew a cork. The Nazi propaganda quickly announced to their people that Hess had lost his mind. In a nutshell, the above is the official account we have read in many history books. But what’s the truth behind it all? Here are several other points to consider, just a few in this complex case as crazy as the JFK assassination 22 years later…
--Three days before the Hess Flight, 7 May, Churchill was facing a crucial non-confidence vote in the British House of Commons, a showdown between his leadership and those who opposed his handling of the war. One critic had accused Churchill of trying to run the war all by himself. Good news was hard to come by for Churchill and his beleaguered nation. They were losing on all fronts…North Africa, Malta, and the open Atlantic where German U-boats were sinking one in 10 supply ships coming from Canada and the then-neutral United States. But that afternoon, a perked-up Churchill gave one of his great, stirring speeches that electrified the packed chamber. When the votes were taken, the Prime Minister stole the floor with a startling 447 to 3 victory. Still, Hess arrived on enemy soil, although Churchill seemed in firm command. Did Hess think he could single-handedly convince the British to change their minds?
--The day after the flight, the Duke of Hamilton reported directly to Prime Minister Churchill, who was at a friend’s country estate called Ditchley Park. It was a long trip south for Hamilton, flying at first, then being escorted by car. Upon arrival at Ditchley Park in the evening, Hamilton could see that Churchill and several guests had just finished a huge meal and were in good spirits. Brandy and cigars had been passed around. Taking Churchill aside, Hamilton informed his superior about Hess landing in Scotland. Churchill didn’t believe Hamilton at first. Then, frowning, the Prime Minister said, “Hess or know Hess, I’m going to watch the Marx Brothers.” With that, the entire delegation withdrew to another room, where a projector was made ready. The evening’s film was The Marx Brothers Go West. Given a comfortable chair, Hamilton was so exhausted from everything in the last 24 hours that he fell asleep and didn’t wake up until the film was over and the lights were turned on. Then, in a private room, he gave Churchill the details of Hess’s arrival and confinement in Scotland.
--Word may have leaked out about Hess’s mission prior to his leaving Germany. According to German fighter pilot Adolf Galland in his memoirs, The First and the Last (1953), he spoke of a strange phone call he had received from Luftwaffe Reichmarshall Hermann Goering on the evening of 10 May 1941. At the time, Galland commanded the Luftwaffe fighter squadrons defending the North Sea coast. Goering , in a panic, ordered Galland to take off with his entire wing. Galland replied there was no enemy aircraft on radar flying in. “What do you mean flying in? You’re supposed to stop an aircraft flying out! The Deputy Fuehrer has gone mad and is flying to England in an ME-110.” Even though there was only about 10 minutes of daylight left, Galland did as ordered. Returning to base, he and his squadrons didn’t see anything resembling a stray twin-engine ME-110.
--In 2010, a 28-page notebook supposedly written by Hess’s adjutant Karlheinz Pintsch was found in the Soviet Union, where he was held prisoner and tortured by the Russians for 10 years after the war. In it, Pintsch wrote that Hitler knew about Hess’s peace mission and even sanctioned it. If so, was Hitler blowing his cork only an act?
--In his best-selling book, Mein Kampf, which he wrote prior to gaining power in 1932, Adolf Hitler stated firmly that England was Germany’s natural ally. If he came to power, he promised the readers to seek a peaceful coexistence with his British brothers. He went on to say he would leave the Brits to their sea empire, providing they would let Germany have a free hand in Europe, and that the real common enemy of the two countries was the Communist Soviet Union. Hess helped Hitler write the popular book, Mein Kampf, while the 2 were in prison as a result of a botched illegal coup of the German government in 1923 called the Munich Putsch. Britain and Germany had no reason to be enemies, Hitler believed, something that Hess must’ve believed in too, enough to seek out the Duke of Hamilton and his appeaser contacts. Did Hitler send Hess to fulfill what had been stated in Mein Kampf almost 20 years before?
--Welsh Dr Hugh Thomas in his 2 books on the Hess flight--The Murder of Rudolf Hess (1979) and Hess…A Tale of Two Murders (1988)--insisted the pilot who landed in Scotland was a Hess double. Thomas based his claim on the fact that when he examined the prisoner Hess on one occasion in 1973 during the German’s lifetime War Crimes confinement, he did not find any evidence of the severe World War I chest wounds that Rudolf Hess was supposed to have had, according to Hess’s known medical report. During the examination, Thomas asked the prisoner in German, “What happened to your war wounds? Not even skin deep?” The prisoner turned white as a sheet and began to shake so violently that Thomas thought he was going have a heart attack. The prisoner wanted nothing more to do with Dr Thomas after that. The 2 never saw each other again.
--Also in support of the imposter theory, Karlheinz Pintsch had taken pictures of Hess in his flight suit and with his ME-110 leaving that 10 May 1941 afternoon, the pictures published in Thomas’s first book, and other books and magazine articles worldwide. According to records at Augsburg, Germany, Hess’s personal aircraft had the fuselage markings NJ+C11. However, the one that crashed in the Scottish countryside and is on display today at the Imperial War Museum in London has the markings VJ+OQ. Under interrogation by the British, their prisoner made no mention of switching aircraft en route. He even claimed to not having refueled. If that was the case, he would need drop tanks to make the long flight because ME-110s did not have the range for such a journey. Trouble was, in Pintsch’s pictures taken at Augsburg, Germany there were no such drop tanks.
--Imposter or no imposter, depending on what you want to believe, the Hess Flight was the turning point in the war for Britain. Nothing was going right for them before Hess arrived. Six weeks later, Hitler invaded Russia, creating a 2-front war for Germany, thus taking the heat off Britain. Then the US joined the Allies at the end of the year when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. With the American industrial might backing him up, Churchill supposedly slept well after that, while Roosevelt must have had sleepless nights mobilizing his own country for war.
--At Nuremberg in 1946, where Hess, Goering, and other Nazis were on trial for their lives after the defeat of Germany, Hess claimed to have amnesia. A perfect cover for an imposter, right? According to prison psychiatrist Dr GM Gilbert, in Thomas’s 2 books, Goering said to Hess, “By the way, Hess, when are you going to let us in on your great secret?” What secret was that?
--A strange incident happened to me in 1997, when I spoke to a group of aviation enthusiasts and pilots at a small gathering outside Waterdown, Ontario. The occasion was my soon-to-be released book, The Hess Papers, which has since been renamed The Fuehrermaster by my present British publisher, Mushroom E-Books. You see, I too believed—and still do--in the Hess imposter theory and wrote about it in historical-fiction form. You can check my book out via the link in my sidebar. I guess, I’m tooting my own horn here. Anyway, after I spoke to the small group of maybe 20 men, we all stood around, had some coffee, and chatted. I was approached by an elderly gentleman who said that his uncle was one of the backroom lawyers at the Nuremberg trials after the war. Now that immediately caught my attention. The gentleman said he had mentioned to his uncle at a family get-together in the 1950s, “It’s too bad you didn’t get Hitler to stand trial at Nuremberg,” to which his uncle replied, “It’s too bad we didn’t get Hess either. That man at Nuremberg was not Hess. And I think a lot of people knew it.”
--Speaking on the Hess Flight in his memoirs, Churchill wrote, “I never attached any serious importance to the escapade.” Maybe because he and others close to the scene knew the man in custody was a phony.
--Sentenced to life at Spandau Prison in West Berlin for War Crimes, Hess died a frail old man of 93 on 17 August 1987. Suicide by hanging, was the officially story. Another official story. Or did someone knock him off? Was he finally talking? If he was an imposter, then who perpetrated it? Did British Intelligence know ahead of time that the real Hess was coming and lured him in? If that’s true, did Hess die on British soil and get replaced? Or did someone in the German High Command get rid of the real Hess before he even crossed the North Sea?
--In 1941, the British Government placed a 100-year Secrets Stamps on the more sensitive details of the Hess Flight and the circumstances surrounding it. On 2 different occasions over the years some of the information has been released, but nothing really of note. I wonder if I’ll still be alive and thinking clearly in 2041 to find out what really happened that 10 May 1941 and afterwards. Gosh, I’ll be 89. I’m not hoping for it to happen too soon, though, if you catch my drift.