A bumbled flight
Hitler's deputy crashed in Scotland. Why?
BY THOMAS K. GROSE
Shortly after 11 p.m. on May 10, 1941, 45-year-old plowman David
McLean heard an explosion, looked out his window, and saw a parachutist float into a meadow of Floors Farm near Eaglesham, Scotland. He ran out to find a
crashed and burning Messerschmitt and a slightly injured German officer"Hauptmann" (Captain) Albert
Horn. Horn turned out to be Rudolf Hess, Adolf Hitler's deputy. Fifty-nine years later,
people still argue about one of the strangest episodes of World War II.
Imprisoned until he committed suicide in 1987 at Berlin's Spandau Prison, Hess never
changed his story. He said he was on a solo mission to end the war between
Britain and Germany and had hoped to land at the nearby estate of the Duke of
Hamilton, whom he wrongly believed to be a leader of a "peace party." British and
German authorities endorsed his claim. Others find it preposterous. "Germany's
third-most-powerful man flew here on the off chance of meeting Hamilton?"
says John Harris, author of a 1999 book, Hess: The British Conspiracy. "He would
have had to have been an idiot."
Harris thinks Hess was snookered. In his book, he suggests that
British military intelligence unit S-01 lured Hitler's deputy with the false notion
he'd be greeted by a peace factiona stalling move to delay
a feared invasion by Germany. Harris bases his claim on letters from an elderly
Englishwoman to German academics close to Hess, implying she was eager to be a
conduit for peace talks. Her nephew was a central player in S-01. Hitler, who wanted peace with
Britain so he could devote his energy to invading the Soviet Union, had blessed
the trip, Harris writes. Once Hess bailed out, neither Churchill nor Hitler would
own up to their plans.
No trick. Baloney, sneers Roy Conyers Nesbit, who last year coauthored The
Flight of Rudolf Hess: Myths and Reality. Nesbit says the January 1999 release of
Hess records by MI-5, Britain's FBI equivalent, proves he was a "lone flier."
There's no evidence of S-01 trickery. MI-5 was not in on
the ruse, counters Harris. Ah, says Nesbit, but the Royal Air Force tried to stop
Hess's plane; it wouldn't have if the mission had been planned. Harris insists
records show the RAF didn't try very hard to engage Hess.
Lacking proof of a plot, most academics side with Nesbit. "The only real mystery is why anyone still thinks it is a mystery," scoffs
David Stafford, a University of Edinburgh historian who led a symposium on Hess in
May. But the debate will go on at least until 2017, when some of the Hess papers
locked in the British archives may finally be released.