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A New Technical Analysis of the Hess Flight, May 1941
By John Harris, Richard Wilbourn
The History PressCopyright © 2014 John Harris & Richard Wilbourn
All rights reserved.
WAS HESS SANE?
Before attempting to describe the various factors that may have influenced Hess to fly from Nazi Germany in May 1941 and the means by which he achieved the feat, it is important to challenge, or even lay to rest, once and for all, the myth that Rudolf Hess was mad, or delusional, as the official Nazi Party communiqué subsequently declared. This is important because if the Deputy Führer was insane, presumably logical, sensible decisions would prove beyond him and, consequently, it would be even more difficult to analyse and assess his true motives. If, however, Rudolf Hess was sane, we can feel confident to continue our analysis.
We have already recorded that the pre-flight myth that Hess was insane was self-instigated and, until Nuremberg, self-perpetuated. The letter he had allowed Karl-Heinz Pintsch, his adjutant, to deliver to Hitler at Obersalzburg on 11 May 1941 had supposedly included words to the effect of:'If all else fails, simply say I had gone mad ...' The fact that both copies of the document are not currently in the public domain may well be significant, but, we suspect, not as evidence of his supposed insanity. Alfred Rosenberg had met with Hess just prior to his flight and stated at Nuremberg: 'Hess gave no evidence of any abnormality ...'
There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that Rudolf Hess was insane before he made his flight. Somewhat idiosyncratic, perhaps: but insane, no. He was quite capable of rational decision making. After his arrival, his demeanour may well have changed, but in this analysis we are attempting to ascertain if there is any evidence of insanity prior to 10 May 1941. The 'madness' alibi supposedly would cover why Hess chose to do what he did and allay any suspicions that the Russians might have that an Anglo-German peace was being jointly negotiated before an eastwards invasion was mounted.
The British have also helped perpetuate the myth that Hess was insane on arrival in May 1941. Shortly after his arrival, the Communist Party of Great Britain accused the Duke of Hamilton of assisting Hess in his mission. The duke, in order to defend his position, launched a legal action against Harry Pollitt, the party's secretary, and threatened to call Hess as a witness in the action. The Public Records Office (PRO) file AIR19/5 deals with the matter. On 23 June 1941, David Margesson, the Secretary of State for War, wrote: 'I will see that Hess is not permitted to appear as a witness ...' On 19 June 1941, the same file records a medical report: 'Hess's condition has deteriorated markedly ... his mental condition has now declared itself as a true psychosis ... the outlook is rather gloomy.' Is this not an example of using mental instability as a means to avoid a court appearance, though in this case not instigated by the defendant? Is it any wonder the myth has been perpetuated? Both accuser and defendant have, in turn, used the same ploy: the British in 1941, Hess in 1946.
We are obviously not qualified to comment in an expert medical sense, but during the research we have completed, we found mention of stomach cramps from time to time, but certainly no major illness. A keen interest in homeopathy presumably does not indicate insanity, though it may well have been deemed unusual in 1938. An avid interest in aviation would suggest intellectual acuity, particularly the pre-war level at which Hess participated. In many ways, and certainly by comparison with his former colleagues, Hess could actually be seen to be reasonably well rounded. Well educated, a fluent French speaker, together with some English, he came from a comfortable (in English terms) upper middle class background. Certainly a very safe and secure background until the First World War destroyed the very foundations on which the Hess family had relied. He was not alone in Germany in sharing that fate. J.R. Rees relates how he was well thought of by his staff, and one secretary commented that: 'He was so kind and noble that one felt obliged to be the same way as much as possible.'
Given their eventual collective fate, it could be argued that membership of the Nazi Party was an illogical act and therefore evidence of insanity. It is a poor argument. The German people were actively looking for a strong leadership with clear and simple principles in 1919/20. This does not make Hess and Hitler insane; political opportunists quite possibly, but insane, no. Once in power, Hess quickly became known as the 'conscience of the party'. Compared to the more radical members of the party, Hess sometimes acted as a moderator, and these were times in which it was difficult to be a moderate. Richard Evans, in 2005, quotes Hess as offering to shoot members of the Brownshirts following an uprising by Ernst Röhm and his followers in 1934. J.R. Rees makes the same allegation. (By contrast, David Irving makes a convincing case that Hess actually tried to save some of those executed.) In 1935, Hess was party to and signed the Nuremberg Race Laws. He then proceeded on an individual basis to employ, protect and help Jews. Certainly there seems to be two sides to Hess: one the ardent Nazi, prepared to do literally anything for his Führer; the other, when off duty, the quiet, unassuming family man.
However, above all, the one inescapable fact is that Hess was loyal to Hitler. One of the earliest Nazi Party members, imprisoned with Hitler at Landsberg in 1923, Hess was unquestionably loyal and this loyalty never faded. Even at Nuremberg, when it was quite possible he might have been executed because of his former association, he declared: 'I was permitted to work for many years of my life under the greatest son whom my people have brought forth ... I do not regret anything.'
Clearly, there was no repentance. When John Harris met Wolf Hess in 1995, it was also clear that this feeling of justification had passed down the generations. Without trying to labour the point, we do not believe that what could be construed as making a terrible mistake is evidence of insanity.
In conclusion, it seems that his behaviour was wholly typical of the times in which he was thoroughly immersed. We see him as a spirited, adventurous individual, albeit with an intelligent, thoughtful, sensitive side, hailing from a wealthy family who had been deprived of their birthright by the British. Perhaps he was a reflection of the times in which he lived, looking to set the agenda, do something about it, perhaps even looking to avenge. We can find no mention of mental illness in the pre-war era, either in official or private documents.
In 1941, on his arrival in Scotland, Hess was medically examined by Lt Col Gibson Graham, Officer in Charge of the Medical Division at Drymen Military Hospital located in Buchanan Castle, Scotland, who concluded that: '... he did not strike me of unsound mind ...' At Nuremberg, the three Russian medical professors, Krashnushkin, Sepp and Kurshakov stated: 'Rudolf Hess, prior to his flight to England, did not suffer from any form of insanity ...' J.R. Rees telephoned his report, dated 19 November 1945, to Nuremberg from London, stating: 'At the moment he is not insane in the strict sense.' The Americans and French wrote in confirmation: 'Rudolf Hess is not insane at the present time in the strict sense of the word.' They also made the interesting point that 'the existing hysterical behaviour which the defendant reveals was initiated as a defence against the circumstances in which he found himself while in England.' When Hess did not wish to speak or answer, the stock phrase of 'I don't remember' was used to good effect.
In 1941 Hess had just completed a challenging aeronautical flight. Was the outcome really that likely if the aviator was of unsound mind?
We are not qualified to comment on the potential effect of the perception of massive personal failure, or on the use of drugs or their effects, or even the potential use of electroconvulsive therapy or a lobotomy. There have been various cases made that Rudolf Hess experienced one or even a combination of these – we will never know. What we do know is that Rudolf Hess was an extremely wily character whilst in captivity and would certainly lie when he thought it necessary or appropriate. At Nuremberg he was quite happy to cultivate the impression that he was mentally ill, until he chose to reveal to the court that his illness was a charade. This ability to 'act' was certainly used to good effect. An insanity plea was a powerful defence for when it was most needed and Hess was most vulnerable.
Hess was eventually adjudged sane to stand trial. While in Spandau, Hess showed a healthy interest in various matters; astronomy and the NASA space program in particular. Yes, he was moody and irritable, which reveals nothing. We can only conclude that Hess was rational and, consequently, we will judge him and his actions on that basis.
Before going on to analyse the various issues pertinent to the decision Hess made in May 1941, the authors would like to make the following observations. These are made without any recourse to historical evidence – just plain common sense.
Hess would not have flown merely to have discussions about peace. That process could have been facilitated in a much less dangerous fashion. If Hess wished to personally participate in such meetings, rather than perhaps utilise Albrecht Haushofer, a short visit and meeting in a neutral country would have been far more safe and sensible. Indeed, there is some evidence that Hess did attend just such a meeting in Madrid during April 1941.
Why Scotland? Was it chosen and targeted simply because Hess believed that by flying there he would meet parties who would help him achieve his aim? A flight to England, for example, would have been easier aeronautically, but he would not have been able to have independently met those parties who were, perhaps, to help him in achieving his goal.
There had been many peace proposals and attempts at peace between Germany and Great Britain since 3 September 1939. We will concentrate on just one: that beginning with the 31 August 1940 meeting between Karl Haushofer and Rudolf Hess. By May 1941 there had already been negotiations, in Sweden, Switzerland and in Spain. The groundwork had been done. Hess was not flying to add to the detail – that had already been agreed. He was flying in to seal the deal and his arrival was to demonstrate his commitment – at the highest level.
Hess had to have Hitler's prior approval in a tangible form. There is no way that any British peace party would risk breaking cover if they were dealing with the second or third most important person in the Nazi Party. What if, on the return to Germany, Hitler or Göring had then dissented to the draft proposals? The choice of aircraft would also imply that a return flight was not anticipated, at least in the short term.
Hess was unsure of the outcome of Operation Barbarossa. Had he been sure of the outcome he would not have seen the need to neutralise the British. If he thought victory assured, why fly anywhere? Hitler and Hess were running out of time – Operation Barbarossa was about to be launched on 22 June 1941. They had previously stated that a war on two fronts was out of the question and that very prospect was less than a month and a half away. There was no more time to negotiate.
When discussing the Hess case, we often remind ourselves to use the principle of Occam's Razor. The razor states that one should proceed to simpler theories until simplicity can be traded for greater explanatory power.CHAPTER 2
THE GERMAN POSITION, SPRING 1941
Since early 1938, Adolf Hitler had been the self-appointed head of the German Armed Forces. At the same time, in the wake of the Blomberg-Fritsch affair, Wilhelm Keitel was appointed as the malleable head of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (Supreme Command of the Armed Forces – OKW), Hitler's successor to the previous Ministry of War. The appointment ensured that Hitler would get his way without effective protest; personal challenge or questions were not tolerated and Keitel rarely dissented. Albert Speer writes: 'From an honourable, solidly respectable General he [Keitel] had developed in the course of years into a servile flatterer with all the wrong instincts.'
The Night of the Long Knives and the treatment of Fritsch demonstrated what happened when the 'Führerprinzip' was questioned; one that would hardly encourage healthy debate before action. Quite possibly this is exactly how Hitler had succeeded to date, but what would happen when times became more difficult? The nominal leader of all German armed forces had no professional experience in strategy, or modern warfare, save for the bitter experiences of the trenches during the First World War. As Albert Speer belatedly stated: 'Amateurishness was one of Hitler's dominant traits.'
Dangerously, in early 1941, and perhaps precisely because of his unconventional, untrained behaviour, Hitler was buoyed by success; there is no doubt that he had achieved outstanding military, political and diplomatic successes. From the Rhineland in 1936 through Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, the Low Countries, then to France in May 1940. In early 1941, he was as yet undefeated on the battlefield and was ready to take on his greatest challenge. He controlled a European coast from Northern Norway to the Spanish border, but had yet to face a determined enemy such as the Russians, who seemingly had scant regard for the lives of their soldiers. His tactics and success may have surprised his opponents so far, but was he becoming overconfident? We are not sure if Hess agreed with the Russian action; David Irving suggests that he did not. Were doubts as to Hitler's military leadership in his mind?
Clearly, Hitler's confidence was not without justification. In 1940, the much-vaunted French Army, numerically superior to the Wehrmacht, had been defeated in twenty-eight days. Much of the success to date had come from the modern strategy of Blitzkreig (Lightning War): a co-ordinated approach combining air power and fast-moving armour with infantry support. The equipment being manufactured obviously supported this tactic, with the Junkers Ju 87 'Stuka' dive-bomber aircraft and Panzer (tank) units being all-conquering. The tactic had been very successful.
This was all very well while speed could be exploited. What Germany could not afford was to be dragged into a long, drawn- out struggle; they did not have either the resources or the appropriate equipment. In a long war, the Allies would have the time to 'out-produce' the Germans; they had overwhelming superiority in means of production and an empire of resources to draw from. Hitler knew this and he was also aware of the huge potential of the Russian arms industry and the danger of direct US involvement. It had to be a short war, which in itself created its own pressures.
Franz Halder, the German Chief of Staff, was in no doubt as to the importance of the Barbarossa decision, as it was, in his eyes, 'based on the need to remove Britain's last hope for continental support ... Once this mission is completed, we will have a free hand, especially with air and naval arms, to bring Britain down finally.' However, he continued: 'If we ... do not achieve rapid, decisive success, it is possible that the tension current in the occupied area may increase and allow Britain an intervention opportunity ... The important issue is the sudden execution of the Barbarossa operation ...'
Not only did Operation Barbarossa have to succeed, it had to succeed rapidly. Without rapid German success, the Allies would have time to build their production capability and Germany would be drawn into a conflict it was not prepared for. They had already carried out the Blitz on Great Britain with inadequate aircraft types; an Avro Lancaster could carry 10 tons of bombs, the German medium bombers only 2–3 tons. Imagine the effect if the positions had been reversed.
There were already some doubts about the German production methodology. The Germans spread manufacturing across a great number of companies, such as Argus and BMW, and Junkers in the case of aero engines. All required their own logistical support and training. There were also myriad research projects into turbo-jet engines, rocket engines and unmanned aircraft. Were they simply too advanced and inquiring for their own good, and did the diversification render effective focus impossible? Were they already spreading themselves too thinly in technology terms? In 1940, only one year into the war, Göring had decided: 'All other long-range programmes are to be examined again' – in part owing to a shortage of raw materials. The replacement and development of the early aircraft types was proving difficult. The new Messerschmitt Me 210, Me 410 and the Junkers Ju 188 were proving to be unreliable in trials, and they were not being produced with a protracted Russian campaign in mind.
Excerpted from Rudolf Hess by John Harris, Richard Wilbourn. Copyright © 2014 John Harris & Richard Wilbourn. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents
Part 1 – Background,
1 Was Hess Sane?,
2 The German Position, Spring 1941,
3 The British Position, Spring 1941,
4 Communications (31.08.40–06.11.40),
5 The Sequence of Events Leading to the Flight (06.11.40–10.05.41),
Part 2 – The Aircraft for the Flight,
6 The Hess Aircraft,
7 The Fuselage and Other Parts,
8 The Lennoxlove Map,
9 The Mystery of the Flight Notes,
10 German Navigation Systems,
11 The British Air Defence System,
12 Glasgow and the North Ayrshire Coast,
13 Time, Sun and Moon,
14 Dungavel House – The Target?,
Part 3 – The Hess Flight,
15 Germany and the North Sea,
16 The Flight Across Scotland,
17 Summary of the Flight,
Part 4 – Aftermath and Conclusions,
18 The Implications,
19 The 14th Duke of Hamilton,
20 The Nature and Extent of the Conspiracy,
21 Royal Involvement in the Hess Affair,
22 Questions and Answers,
Appendix 1. Arthur Bauer's Treatise on the Development of German Radio Direction Systems to 1945,