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It's one of the most baffling mysteries of World War Two – just why did high-ranking Nazi Rudolf Hess make a bizarre flight to Britain – apparently trying to broker a peace deal?
Hitler’s deputy set out from Germany in a Me-110 fighter on May 10, 1941.
He then parachuted out over Scotland before his plane crashed, planning to find the Duke of Hamilton at his nearby home, wrongly thinking he’d help open negotiations.
Instead, Hess was captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London and later given a life sentence for war crimes at the Nuremberg trials. But, 80 years on, was he on a madcap solo mission or was there more to it?
Here, James Moore reveals the theories…
‘Hitler knew about it’
Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler was said to be furious when he discovered what Hess had done, ordering that he be shot if he ever returned to Germany.
But could Hess really have made the flight from Bavaria under Hitler’s nose without help?
A journalist who met them both believed the Nazi leader – who was about to invade the Soviet Union – wanted to offer British Prime Minister Winston Churchill the chance of peace or an alliance against the communists.
While a notebook of a Hess associate suggests Hitler did authorise the mission, a letter supposedly left for Hitler by Hess suggests he didn’t know.
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‘The British were involved’
Soviet leader Joseph Stalin reckoned the British engineered Hess’s flight and once raised the matter with Churchill.
But he insisted the Allies had no warning, later describing the quest as the work of a lone “lunatic”.
Still, one theory suggests MI6 agents managed to trick Hess into making the journey to weaken the Nazi regime.
‘He was part of a coup’
The story goes that Hess believed that the Duke of Hamilton was opposed to the war and would help set up a new British government to negotiate. Yet there’s no evidence the RAF officer was a Nazi sympathiser.
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Could Hess really have meant to meet with the Duke of Kent, the King’s younger brother, who, one book suggests, was part of a plot to topple Churchill and make a treaty with Germany? The Duke died in a mysterious plane crash in 1942.
‘He was a double’
Hess died aged 93 in 1987, having officially committed suicide at Berlin’s Spandau Prison. But was the prisoner, known as Spandau #7, actually, a doppelgänger as some – including a top British doctor who examined him and ex-US president Franklin D. Roosevelt – had believed.
In 2019, DNA tests on an old blood sample appeared to contradict this idea, when the blood was confirmed as a match for Hess.
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Intriguingly, however, there are also claims he was in fact murdered in prison to stop him from revealing wartime secrets.
‘Spooks gave the order’
After the war, astrology and occult-loving Hess is reported to have told fellow Nazi Albert Speer that the idea of his mission had been inspired by “supernatural forces”.
He’d also admit to others that he didn’t have Hitler’s permission, but thought that the Führer would eventually back his plan to let Britain keep its Empire if Germany could dominate Europe.
- Adolf Hitler
- World War 2
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