The Inside Story of Rudolf Hess
As First Secretory of the British Embassy in Berlin from 1933 to 1938, SIR IVORSE KIRKPATRICKestablished himself as an English expert on Hitler‘s Germany and was accordingly the man with whom Rudolf Hess had to deal when he made his sudden flight to Britain in 1941. After the war, Sir Ivone was the logical choice for Britain‘s High Commissioner to Germany.
RUDOLF HESS was a simple, stupid soul with a strong streak of fanaticism and some eccentricity. He owed his high position — second only to Göring’s in the chain of command — to his unquestioning loyalty and to the circumstance that he had been with Hitler from the earliest days of the Nazi movement. He had been imprisoned with Hitler at Landsberg, where he took down Mein Kampf from dictation. In 1925 he became Hitler’s private secretary, and when the Nazis came to power in 1933, he was made a deputy führer and minister.
Hitler rather liked stupid men around him, and Hess was allowed to play a prominent role in the days of peace. He was intelligent enough to master the Nazi catechism, and he could make the stock speeches around the country and appear on the platform at Party gatherings. But when war came, something more was required, and Hess was gradually relegated to the background. This change in his fortunes was grievously wounding to his vanity, and he cast about for means of rehabilitating himself with his Führer.
In this predicament, he conceived the idea of arranging by his own enterprise an Anglo-German peace. To achieve this he had to make contact with some important Englishman. His First step was to address himself to Professor Karl Haushofer, Hitler’s closest adviser on foreign affairs, who was popularly but erroneously believed to have some knowledge of England. “Who,” Hess inquired, “are the really important people in England?”
“Without doubt, the dukes,” replied the professor. “In England it is really the dukes who have the last word.”
“Do you happen to know any reliable, influential dukes?”
“Yes,” said Haushofer, “I have met the Duke of Hamilton. He seemed nice and sensible, just the very man for you.”
“Good, where does he live?” A Who’s Who and a map of Scotland were produced, and the ducal seat was carefully plotted on the map. Unfortunately, the two conspirators omitted to scrutinize the whole entry in Who‘s Who. Otherwise they would have noted that the duke was serving in the Auxiliary Air Force, and if one thing was certain, it was that he would not be living at home during the war. But with a lack of thoroughness which was un-German, this point was overlooked, and Hess, abetted by Haushofer, concluded that all he needed to do to achieve his end was to meet the duke in person. He would fly to Dungavel and parachute himself into the ducal park.
He accordingly instructed his friend Willy Messerschmitt to prepare a two-seater fighter plane with an auxiliary, detachable gasoline tank. He said baldly that he required the aircraft for a special purpose and the matter was secret. Messerschmitt did not think it proper to question the deputy fuhrer and complied without demur.
Once the aircraft was ready, it was necessary to consider the question of timing. So long as Germany was winning resounding victories, a peace initiative was unlikely to win Hitler‘s gratitude. On the other hand, it would be imprudent to approach the English while they were under the influence of their victories in North Africa. The question of weather was also important. After months of indecision, Hess eventually decided, at the beginning of May, 1941, that the omens were favorable, and he instructed Messerschmitt to have his aircraft ready to await him at Augsburgon May 10. In the course of the afternoon, he drove to Augsburg accompanied only by an A.D.C. Here, without a word of explanation either to his companion or to Messerschmitt, he entered the machine and took off.
He first set course for Amsterdam, but before reaching the city turned off toward the North Sea and set a new course for Edinburgh. He arrived off the coast of Scotland rather sooner than he had expected. Also, he had omitted to calculate that in Scottish latitudes darkness would fall later than in Bavaria. So he decided to circle for some time over the North Sea and to drop his auxiliary tank, which was subsequently recovered by a British drifter. At about midnight, he judged it to be sufficiently dark to proceed, and he crossed the coast north of Edinburgh. As soon as he reckoned that he had reached his destination, he tried to bail out, but to his dismay he found that the wind kept blowing him back into the cockpit. He then noticed that the lights on his instrument board had gone out, and he no longer knew his height. He tried to turn the aircraft onto its back and drop out, but he had no means of ascertaining whether or not he had succeeded. Eventually, however, he did leave the cockpit. The next thing he knew was that the tail had hit him in the back. He pulled his rip cord, and the opening of his parachute gave him such a jolt that he became unconscious. He was still unconscious when he hit the ground, but suffered no injury except for a sprained ankle.
WHITE all this was going on, London was being subjected to one of the heaviest raids of the war. The Duke of Hamilton was in his control room at Turnhouse airfield. Suddenly the Observer Corps reported that a Messerschmitt had been sighted in his sector, crossing the coast in a westerly direction. He at first discounted the accuracy of the report, for he knew that no German fighter had sufficient range to get home from there. But a flight was sent up to chase the German, and it followed him across Scotland. Shortly after midnight, the pursuing aircraft reported that the German had crashed not far from Glasgow, and, everything being quiet in the sector, the duke turned in.
The following morning, which was a Sunday, a message was received at Turnhouse to the effect that the German pilot of this aircraft, a Captain Horn, was in the hands of the Glasgow police and was asking most insistently to see the Duke of Hamilton. The duke attached no particular importance to this message, but the episode aroused his curiosity, and he decided to drive to Glasgow to see the prisoner, who was detained in hospital.
When they were alone, the pseudo Captain Horn declared dramatically, ‘I am Reich Minister Hess.”
The Duke replied dryly that he had never met Reich Minister Hess and was quite unable to say who the prisoner was.
Whereupon Hess retorted, “I can give you proof of my identity.” He opened a pocketbook and extracted from its folds a snapshot ol himself with a small boy on his knee. “There you are,” he said triumphantly, “you can see that this is a picture of me.”
Hamilton replied that he could see that the photograph was indeed a picture of the prisoner but that he had no evidence that it was a picture of Hess.
“I never thought of that,” said Captain Horn in a dejected tone.
At this point, Hamilton decided that there was nothing further to be done in Glasgow and that he must report the occurrence to higher authority. He accordingly drove back to Turnhouse and flew one of his fighters to London. There he was put in touch with the Prime Minister, who was spending the weekend at Ditchley. At first Mr. Churchill was naturally indignant at being disturbed by what he described as a cock-and-bull story. But he must have had misgivings, for later that night he woke the Foreign Secretary by telephone to ask him to look into the matter. Nothingfurther could be done at that hour. Everyone went to bed. Reich Minister Hess had been with us for twenty-four hours.
The following morning, before going to the Cabinet, the Foreign Secretary asked the Permanent Undersecretary, Sir Alexander Cadogan, whether we had anyone handy who knew Hess sufficiently well to be able to identify him with certainty. It was always possible that Horn might be a double of Hess and that the story was a plant. I was working at the B.B.C. when the telephone rang and Cadogan asked me in the most casual manner whether I knew Rudolf Hess. I replied that I did, and he inquired whether I would recognize him with certainty if I saw him. This seemed to me an odd question, but I assured Cadogan that I knew Hess well and could not possibly fail to recognize him if I saw him. Cadogan asked me to come around to the Foreign Office as soon as possible.
On my arrival, Cadogan gave me the gist of the Duke of Hamilton’s report. The matter obviously required investigation, and the Foreign Secretary wanted me to go to Scotland at once to identify the man. It was quite likely that he was an imposter, and Cadogan asked again whether I was quite sure that I could identify Hess without any possibility of a mistake. I gave the necessary assurance, though I did have one horrid moment of misgiving at the possibility of being hoaxed by an expert impersonator. I then waited for the Foreign Secretary to return from the Cabinet, since he wished to give me instructions. I was told that I should confine myself to identifying the prisoner, reporting the identification, and taking note of any statement he might volunteer. I was not to attempt more. Meanwhile, a special airplane would be made ready at Hendon, and the Duke of Hamilton would accompany me.
There was some little delay in producing the aircraft. Consequently, it was not until nearly 5 P.M. that the Duke and I were able to leave London. As luck would have it, our slow Flamingo aircraft was not only held back by strong head winds but was obliged to come down at Catterick to refuel. There we were received with a certain suspicion and were allowed to proceed only after our identity had been checked. in consequence, wc did not reach Turnhouse until 9:40 P.M. Dinnerless and rather tired, Hamilton and I motored across Scotland to Buchanan Castle, a military hospital to which Hess had been moved from Glasgow. We lost our way in the dark and did not arrive until after midnight. We were met by Lhe commandant, who led the way up winding stairs and passages to what must have been a servant’s bedroom under the roof. A door was opened, and there I saw Hess, fast asleep on an iron bedstead. He was dressed in the gray flannel pajamas issued to soldiers in hospital and covered by a brown Army blanket.
Accustomed as I was to the pomp and splendor in which the Nazi nabobs lived, I surveyed the bare room in silence. Then we woke up the prisoner, and after a moment of dazed uncertainty he recognized me and gave me a warm welcome. Two hard wooden chairs were produced for Hamilton and myself, and we were left alone with Hess. Seizing a large packet of manuscript notes, he embarked on a long and evidently wellprepared discourse of Germany‘s grievances against England. He traced the history of AngloGerman relations since the beginning of the century and sought to prove that Germany’s legitimate aspirations had always been thwarted by the treacherous brutality of British policy. This oration had not reached its culminating point when the Foreign Secretary telephoned to inquire how I was getting on. I left the room to speak to him and was able to say that I had identified the prisoner as Hess without any doubt whatsoever.
ON RETURNING to the bedroom, I found Hamilton comatose and Hess itching to get on with his speech. By 3 A.M. the bundle of notes had almost all been used, and he was evidently reaching the peroration. But my patience was exhausted. 1 cut him short and summarily demanded that he should define the object of his visit. He replied that it was to convince the British government of the inevitability of a German victory and to bring about a peace by negotiation. He explained that Britain‘s position was now completely hopeless. We had been expelled from the continent of Europe and could never recover a footing there. We stood alone and our strength must decline, whereas Hitler‘s would expand with the aid of all Europe’s resources, including those of Russia.
There were therefore two courses open to us. The first would be to continue our ineffective resistance. But, in that case, he must warn me, Hitler would be very angry, with consequences appalling to our people. Here he drew a vivid picture of Germany’‘s capacity, untrammeled by any warlike operations, to concentrate on an enormous program of aircraft and submarine construction. The aircraft would be used to encompass the systematic and pitiless destruction of our industries and dwellings. The whole island would be reduced to rubble, and millions of our people killed. Meanwhile, the submarine fleets would completely blockade us. Those who escaped the bombs would perish of starvation.
I asked Hess whether Hitler still intended to invade Britain. He looked rather sheepish and said he really did not know. The Führer, who was a tenderhearted man, might be reluctant to expose his soldiers to the sight of so much suffering. On the whole, he was disposed to think that the most likely plan would be to isolate us, destroy our towns, and leave the survivors to starve until the government sued for peace. Even when we had surrendered, it was by no means certain that food would be made available for our famished people. He must beg me not to follow this suicidal course, because there was a way out which promised honor, safety, and a glorious future. He could claim to be in the fuhrer‘s closest confidence, a circumstance ol which I must be aware. He was therefore in a position to speak with complete authority, and he could assure me that the fürer. who had always entertained a high regard for Britain and its empire, would be prepared to conclude a magnanimous peace on the following terms: German hegemony on the continent of Europe and the return of the former German colonies: British hegemony in the overseas empire, which would remain intact and would be guaranteed by Germany. Thus, the German Army and the British Fleet would rule the world.
There was, however, one condition to this offer. The Führer, understandably enough, would not negotiate a peace with Mr. Churchill. Hess assumed that, in view of the generous character of his proposals, this would present no difficulty, even with Mr. Churchill. So now it only remained to open negotiations with himself. At this point he produced a dirty little scrap of paper on which he had written the name and number of a German prisoner of war. He said that he would require this man as secretary and general assistant in the forthcoming negotiations.
Except to correct some of Hess‘s wilder deviations from the truth, I did not interrupt his speech, which lasted until nearly 4 A.M. By that time the duke, who had been unable to follow Hess‘s German, was nearly asleep, and I was very hungry. So we took our leave and went downstairs to eat a dish of scrambled eggs prepared by the night sister.
It was 6:00 before we reached Turnhouse and got to bed. At 8:30 A.M. I telephoned to the Foreign Office to give a short account of our proceedings. I was told that the government was embarrassed by the whole affair and did not know exactly how to handle it. Meanwhile, it would be helpful in dealing with the press if I could give some local color, such as the type of food the prisoner was eating, what he was wearing, how he was housed, how he was looking, and so on. I answered all these questions, and I remember that there was some public indignation at the news that he had been eating chicken. I was then told that, as soon as the Foreign Secretary was available, I should be given further instructions. I spent the rest of the morning preparing an account of Hess’s statement, which I dictated to a charming and competent W.R.A.F. stenographer, who was clearly thrilled at joining the small band of people in the secret. My report was flown to London in the afternoon.
THE following day, Wednesday, May 14, 1I had still received no further instructions. So I decided to accompany Hamilton on a visit to H.M.S. Victorious, our latest carrier, which had only just been commissioned. On the way we were stopped at the Firth of Forth ferry by a message from the Foreign Secretary that it was imperative that we should pursue our conversations with Hess. I deduced that the government was still in difficulties and wished to be able to say that Hess had not finished all he had to tell us and that, in the meantime, no decisions could be taken. I asked, however, what I was to converse with him about and received the answer that this must be left to my discretion.
We accordingly cut short our visit to the ship and drove on to our second interview. I found that the atmosphere had deteriorated in the thirty-six hours which had elapsed since I had seen him. He was clearly disappointed that nothing at all had been done to meet his reasonable request for an Anglo-German negotiation. But he was friendly enough to us personally and still seemed to have some faith in the ability of dukes to deliver the goods. He said at once that there was one small point he had forgotten to mention at our first interview. Hitler would, of course, have to look after Rashid Ali, in view of what had occurred in Iraq, but that was a detail which need really cause no difficulty. I then asked Hess to tell me how he had got to Scotland, and he gave me the account which I have reproduced at the beginning of this article. I inquired whether he had acted entirely on his own initiative, and he told me petulantly that the project had been conceived by himself and that the only German with whom he had discussed it had been Professor Haushofer.
From this topic we passed to a dreary catalogue of complaints. In the first place, there was the incomprehensible delay in getting to grips with the peace negotiations. This was a very serious matter, since Germany could not be expected to wait indefinitely on our pleasure, and Hitler was not a man with whom it was sale to toy. Secondly, there was the question of his treatment. His quarters were unworthy of a Reich Minister, and, in particular, he must have a less blinding light. He was under constant surveillance, which was humiliating and unnecessary. Medical attention left much to be desired. For example, the doctor who had examined him had done so on a couch on which no clean sheet had been laid. He might have picked up any skin disease. Finally, there was altogether too much noise. He was convinced that the sentries wore heavy boots and stamped about outside his room on purpose to annoy him.
I had noticed that Hess had brought with him a large assortment of medicine bottles, which were displayed on a table beside the bed. The importance he attached to these remedies and the tone of his complaints led me to ask the hospital doctors whether he was sane. They assured me that, though he was distinctly odd, he was certainly not insane and could not have been declared so. However, whether he was sane or insane, I was not prepared to waste further time listening to his complaints, and I left the hospital.
The following day, May 15, I received a message that I was to have a further conversation with Hess and that it would look better if I were to move from Turnhouse to the local hotel at Drymen. I was getting rather tired of my friend, but I had to comply. I reminded Hess that he had raised the question of Rashid Ali and Iraq. What, I inquired, were Hitler’s views on Ireland? Hess replied tartly that Hitler took no interest in Ireland and that, so far as Germany was concerned, Britain could do what it liked in Ireland. I then turned to Russia. By May, 1941, we had fairly complete information about Hitler‘s impending attack on the Soviet Union. I said innocently that German-Soviet relations seemed to have deteriorated recently, and I inquired whether there was any chance that Hitler would lose patience and resort to military measures. Hess replied that it was out of the question. I pressed him again and again, but he assured me that Hitler was a man who stuck scrupulously to his engagements. I got the impression that Hess was so much out of things that he really did not know.
As soon as we had exhausted political topics, Hess reverted eagerly to his complaints. It was clear that he was even more soured than on the preceding day. We went over much of the same ground, in particular the intolerable manner in which he was kept waiting about. There were also new grievances to be heard. He had taken a personal dislike to the officer of the guard. There were no German books for him to read. There was a plot to poison him. I tried to reassure him on this point, with some success, but he insisted that the officer of the guard should taste his food. Meanwhile, the authorities, fearing that Hitler might make an attempt to rescue Hess, had deployed an infantry battalion in the park and had taken steps to impose a strict control on all access to the castle.
The next day, I evaded an interview with Hess, although he asked me to see him. Instead, I arranged to play a round of golf with the hospital commandant. Just as we were getting into the car, we were called to the telephone. Hess was to be moved that night in the greatest secrecy to the Tower of London. We abandoned our game of golf to make the necessary arrangements. At 6 P.M. Hess was placed in a military ambulance and driven to Glasgow, where he entrained for London. To complete the deception, I stayed in Drymen until the following day.
ON MY return to London, I made a full report, which went to the Prime Minister and to the Foreign Secretary. The Hess affair was still cloaked in mystery, and only a small inner ring of ministers and officials was acquainted with the facts. Shortly after my return, the Prime Minister called a small meeting to consider the next step. He was at first in a distinctly bad temper, because he was afraid that the government might be thought to be embarking on peace negotiations. He cross-examined me closely, and I gave him an account of what Hess had said to me. When I had finished he growled, “Well, if Hess had come a year ago and told us what the Germans would do to us, we should have been very frightened — and rightly. So why should we be frightened now?”
In reply to further questions I said that, while Hess represented no one and was certainly not in possession of all Germany’s war secrets, it was possible that he had picked up some useful miscellaneous information from conversations with Hitler and others. This might range over a wide field, such as aircraft and submarine construction and technical developments. I had not been briefed on any of these points, and I thought it might be useful for someone in authority to see Hess in order to ensure that, before he was put away, he had been sucked quite dry. I admitted that he might have no information to give. On the other hand, it seemed a pity to miss even the most tenuous chance of obtaining up-to-date high-level intelligence from Germany. Mr. Churchill did not relish this advice, since it involved a meeting with Hess, which might prove embarrassing. In reply to further questions, I told Mr. Churchill that it would be no use sending me again to see Hess. His mind was set upon meeting a representative of the British Cabinet, and he could be usefully examined only under cover of a meeting which was ostensibly convened to hear his peace overtures, In any other circumstances, he would sullenly refuse to speak. After some discussion, it was generally agreed that an emissary should be sent, and the choice fell on Sir John Simon. On this decision the meeting broke up.
I thought that I had finished with Hess, and a few days later I traveled to Ireland, where I had urgent business in connection with my property.
I had been at home only a few hours when I received a telegram from the Foreign Office instructing me to come back at once. In London I Was told that Hess had been moved from the Tower to a house near Aldershot and that I was to accompany Simon there. It was absolutely essential that no one should know that a minister had seen Hess. In consequence, it had been decided that Sir John Simon and I should assume the names of Dr. Guthrie and Dr. Mackenzie, who would be described to the guard as two wellknown psychiatrists. We would be received by two specially detailed German-speaking officers, who were in on the secret, but nobody else would be informed.
When the day came, I called for Sir John Simon at Sunningdale, and we motored on to Aldershot. The villa in which Hess was housed had been surrounded by a barbed-wire stockade, and we established our identity as the psychiatrists to the satisfaction of the guards, who were expecting us. They seemed to see nothing familiar in the features of Dr. Guthrie. We drew up at the door and were met by the two special officers, both of whom I already knew. They explained that the plan was for us to have lunch first, alone with them, after which the meeting with Hess would take place– if, indeed, it could take place. Hess was apparently in an odd frame of mind. He had for some time been looking forward to the meeting which would at last fulfill all the expectations with which he had set out from Germany. In order to add weight to the occasion, he had decided to dress in his uniform. He had however, that morning displayed a sudden lack of confidence in his own ability to take on a man of Simon’s stature. In consequence, he had childishly declared that he felt unwell and did not propose to get up. He was now in bed, but every effort would be made to produce him after lunch.
This news seemed to show that Hess’s mental state had deteriorated since I had seen him in Scotland. The officers were mortified at the behavior of their charge but said that he might well change his mind. So we ate our lunch quietly, discussed the best method of broaching intelligence matters with Hess, and sat down to await developments. After some time, one of the officers came down with the news that Hess was getting up. Shortly afterward, word reached us that he was ready, and we were taken upstairs to a room in which a little conference table had been prepared. On the way, l noticed that the top landing of the house had been completely fenced off. The only access was through a door at the head of the staircase. It was through this door that Hess, in despair at the collapse of his hopes, pushed his way a short time later to throw himself onto the ground floor. The attempt at suicide failed, and Hess escaped with a broken leg.
We entered the so-called conference room. Hess was awaiting us in his smart new Air Force uniform and jack boots. Formal introductions were made. He seemed strangely pleased to see me again. We sat down at the table, Hess on one side, Simon and I facing him, and the interpreter at the head. A full account of this Mad Hatter‘s tea party was given at the Nuremberg trial. Suffice it to say that Simon did his best to lift the conversation onto a reasonable plane. He asked every conceivable question. But it was no good. We abandoned the unequal struggle and went home as secretly as we had come. No whisper of our visit ever got out.
That was the last time I saw Hess. He was subsequently taken to an establishment in Wales, where he stayed until the end of the war. During the war I occasionally had news of him, and it was clear that he was gradually going downhill. In 1944 his letters home became so rambling that the authorities feared that they might justify a German demand for his repatriation under the Geneva Convention. I might have seen him at Nuremberg, for I was invited to the trial, but I refused on the ground that I had already seen too much of the defendants. The Hess episode was one of the oddest in history, and the oddest thing about it was that it was not in character. When the news broke, an enterprising commandant of a prisoner-of-war camp in England summoned a few senior officers and said to them, “A Nazi minister has flown to England without the Führer’s knowledge. Who do you suppose it is?” They replied that they did not believe the story. But if it was true, there was one minister in Germany whose loyalty to the Führer made him incapable of such a thing — Rudolf Hess.
In view of the secrecy with which the whole affair was enveloped, it is not surprising that speculation in the press should have run rife. One American newspaper published a long and circumstantial story to the effect that I had not been in Scotland at all but that Hess‘s visitor had been an important man who had disguised himself as Kirkpatrick. A Canadian newspaper with prophetic insight described me as a famous psychiatrist. and of course my visit to Ireland was regarded as evidence of peace moves. But the best report came from a West African newspaper:
KlRK PATRICK APPOINTED SUCCESSOR OF RUDOLF HESS
London. May 13. Hitler has appointed Kirk Patrick Herr Hess‘s Chief of Staff as Hess’s successor and has abandoned the post of Chancellor‘s Deputy. The new office taken by Herr Hess‘s successor is Chief of the Directorate of the Nazi Party.