Monday, December 16, 2013

Hess, Hitler & Churchill

A Spy book for Christmas...?

The Second World War was the most costly manmade catastrophe in human history.  This conflict killed over 60 million people around the globe.  At the heart of this terrible war lies a mystery that remains, at least to some extent, unsolved even after seventy years have passed.  Bletchley Park yielded up her secrets long ago.  Why not the Hess flight to Scotland?  It is the ultimate spy story played for the highest possible stakes.

Hess' BF 110, Imperial War Museum, London
Consider first the curious timing of this event.  Hess, the deputy Fuhrer of the Third Reich, took off in an ME-110 from Germany to Scotland on May 10 1941.  Up until this point in the war, the Axis had experienced only success.  Just a few weeks after the Hess flight on June 22 Hitler would launch Operation Barbarossa, the disastrous invasion of the Soviet Union.  After the Hess flight, the Axis forces would experience no more strategic victories.  The Hess flight truly was, as Peter Padfield puts it, "The real turning point of the Second World War".

Hess was a curious specimen of humanity (see earlier post Rudolph Hess...  He was a German who had been born in a colony of the British Empire -- Egypt.  He grew up a German expatriate in comfortable circumstances, the son of a successful businessman.

Hess was, like Hitler, a veteran of the First World War.  He was a courageous German soldier earning the Iron Cross, 2nd class.  After the war he met Hitler and his life was changed forever.

Padfield writes, "Hess loved Hitler.  That is the essential key, without which his life story becomes incomprehensible."   Even years after the Fuhrer's sell-inflicted demise when Hess was languishing as the sole inmate in Spandau prison he was still infatuated the man who had brought Gotterdamerung to Germany.

Commander K. at Tower of London where Hess was first held

What unsolved mysteries remain about the Hess gambit?

1) First, was Hitler in on the Hess conspiracy?  Padfield assembles plausible evidence which would suggest that he did.  Hitler's temper tantrum on "learning" of the Hess flight may have been mere play-acting at which the Fuhrer was quite talented.

2) Second, did Hess bring with him a written peace proposal with specific concessions that the Nazis were willing to make in order to assure that they would have "a free hand in the east" to invade the Soviet Union?  Padfield cites convincing evidence that there was such a document.  "MI5 files released recently show that on 14 May Censorship intercepted photostat copies of a letter Hess had brought with him". but that its contents, held by the British government, remain secret to this day.

3) Third, if the answer to 2) is "yes," then what exactly did it contain?  Padfield's account necessarily relies upon the word of "anonymous informants".  According to these sources, Hitler was offering to give up nearly all of his conquered territory in the West with the exception of Luxembourg and Alsace Lorraine.  Padfield further speculates that Hitler may have used the issue of the Jews as a bargaining chip or ransom demand to enforce acceptance of his terms.  The final solution or else.  This would explain why such an incendiary document might remain buried even to the present.

4) Fourth, Padfield suggests that Hess was likely to have been the victim of an MI6 plot to embarrass the Nazi regime.  There was a British "Peace"party in 1941, but the Duke of Windsor had been exiled to the Bahamas and Churchill was, thankfully, in control of the reigns of government.  Extreme measures had been taken; habeus corpus was suspended.  Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists and a "Peace" advocate, was arrested on May 22, 1940 and imprisoned for the war's duration.  Churchill immediately had Hess incarcerated (initially at the Tower of London) to await trial for war crimes and the Peace plot was foiled. While many historians and commentators have questioned Churchill's strategic judgement he got it right on the big things.  As the South African statesman Jan Smuts said of Churchill, "in great things he is very great, in small things not great."

5) Fifth, Padfield dismisses the conspiracy theories that Hess may have been murdered in Spandau prison rather than hanging himself at the age of 93 with an extension cord.  The suicide note seems plausible and the surveillance in Spandau prison makes assassination highly unlikely.

Could Hitler have prevailed in a war against the Soviet Union without Britain and the United States?  This is a truly terrifying scenario but the answer is probably "yes".  Although 4 out of 5 German soldiers were killed on the Eastern front that does not really tell the complete story.  The Allied campaign in North Africa in 1942 captured more Germans than those that surrendered at Stalingrad that same year.  Allied strategic bombing attacks meant that the Red Air Force would enjoy air supremacy on most of the eastern front.  Billions of dollars worth of Allied lend lease supplied the Red Army with jeeps, trucks, boots, food and much more.  Second fronts were opened by the Allies in Italy in 1943 and in France in 1944.  Nor did the Soviets have to face the Imperial Japanese forces until the closing days of the war.

Commander K. with friends
Every Christmas season we celebrate the birth of the "Prince of Peace".  The strange case of Hess reminds us that even Peace itself can be used as a weapon of war for the treaty that he likely brought would have been "a Peace to end all Peace".  Hess was the world's first "peace-monger" (see earlier post...

Have we not seen "Peace used as a weapon of war" in the 21st century as well...?  Could that not also describe Putin's recent intervention in Syria?

If you enjoy reading spy stories where the fate of the world is at stake look no further than Peter Padfield's Hess, Hitler and Churchill, The Real Turning Pint of the Second World War -- A Secret History, (

You can now purchase Commander Kelly's 
first book, America Invades or on

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Regarding the sealed MI5 documents, anything there that might potentially embarrass GB's earlier peace efforts handled by Chamberlain?