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The Rudolf Hess Affair

The Mystery Still Hovers

Rudolf Hess and Adolf Hitler

Shortly after 11 p.m., on the night of May 10, 1941, Rudolf Hess, deputy of the Führer of Nazi Germany and close friend of Adolf Hitler, parachuted from an airplane that he piloted himself over Scotland. He lands in a field about 15 km south of Glasgow and is picked up by David McLean, a local farmer, who takes him to his house and offers him a cup of tea. Rudolf Hess tells McLean that he is Captain Alfred Horn and that he carries an important message for the Duke of Hamilton, one of the most prominent members of the aristocracy in Scotland. McLean phones the Home Guard, who takes Hess under his care and hands him over to the British army. Rudolf Hess, who still claims to be Alfred Horn, says he will only speak to the Duke. When the latter learns of this strange event, he visits the prisoner. During the following meeting, Rudolf Hess reveals his true identity to the Duke, who immediately sends a report of the conversation directly to Winston Churchill.

It is one of the strangest events of the Second World War. It has led to endless speculation as to why Hess did this, including doubts about his mental state at the time. The British government's obsession with keeping this matter a secret - some files that concern it are still closed over 70 years later - deprives us of many elements to understand what happened. As might be expected, these gaps have been filled by a wide range of theories that more or less hold water, and concerning, among other things, the role played by the government and its intelligence services in attracting Rudolf Hess by Britain under false pretenses. The objective of such an action seemed to be either the capture of Hess or, on the contrary, the opening of a mind-bogglingly complex process which would ensure Germany to attack the Soviet Union, which would have somewhat reduced the pressure on Britain, which was the only one to fight against Nazi Germany after the defeat of France.

Another theory was that the case was part of a larger plot to eliminate Churchill from power in Britain, thereby installing a more favorable government for Germany. In this scenario, Rudolf Hess would have come to Britain to make contact with an alleged "peace party", made up of former conciliators such as Lord Halifax, along with members of the aristocracy who had shown sympathy for Nazi Germany before the war. One of them is the Duke of Hamilton, the man Rudolf Hess wanted to meet, at least according to this theory, in order to offer German support and cooperation in formulating what would be, in fact, a coup against Churchill. And then there is another theory, which says that the man who lands in Scotland is not Rudolf Hess at all, but an impostor playing the role of Hess, and who continues to claim him, even after being sentenced to life in 1946 at the Nuremberg trial and who took his secret to the grave after his death in 1993 at Spandau prison in Berlin.

Needless to say, most of these conspiracy theories owe more to the imagination of their authors than to the facts as we know them, even if it is currently impossible to say with certainty what actually happened. Rationale linking the British Secret Service to this case says that the Royal Air Force (RAF) allowed Rudolf Hess to fly to Britain because he was told not to stop his plane. Examining the response from Fighter Command in Scotland that evening does not support this theory. The RAF may have been surprised by the arrival of a single German aircraft in the country, but once it was detected, several squadrons of Spitfires took off urgently to intercept it. Only Rudolf Hess' skills as a pilot prevented him from being shot down - he was spotted from the ground flying over the coast at no more than 15m above sea level and then continued across the Scotland at low altitude to avoid being seen by the RAF.

If it had been a British plot, you would think that this kind of plan would have been put in place to deal with him once he was caught. When it was, his arrival was greeted with amazement and the response was at best confused, suggesting that the British were unaware. It is possible that the British secret services were involved, by making the Germans believe that the British “peace party” had worked actively to put an end to their country's participation in the war. It was certainly what Hitler wanted to believe, an agreement with Britain would have left Nazi Germany free to pursue its expansion goals in Eastern Europe and Russia. But apart from a small number of Nazi sympathizers and British fascists, there is no evidence of such a movement in Britain. And it is easy to show that the idea that the man captured in Scotland was an impostor is nothing but a fantasy - a Foreign Office official in Berlin before the war, confirmed his identity shortly after his arrival. So, conspiracy theories easily swept away, we are left with a slightly more difficult question: what really happened?

Conspiracy theories all focus on the role of the British in this affair. If the focus is on what Hess did in Germany just before leaving for Britain, a fairly different picture emerges. Both Hess and Hitler were very familiar with the geopolitical work of Professor Karl Haushofer, and in Mein Kampf, Hitler had adapted the teacher's ideas to the concept of Lebensraum, literally "living space", which emphasized the need for expansion German in the east to grow and prosper. According to Hitler, the great mistake that Germany made during the First World War was to have fought on two fronts. In an attempt not to make the same mistake himself, he actively explored the possibility of an agreement with Britain.

If the Battle of Britain had been won by the Luftwaffe, Britain would have either come to the negotiating table, or been invaded and lost the war. Fortunately, the RAF succeeded in repelling the German attack, forcing Hitler to rethink its strategy. He is well aware that as long as Churchill remains Prime Minister, there would be no chance of a transaction. He seems to have asked Rudolf Hess to find a way to overcome this impasse. Rudolf Hess then finds himself near Albrecht, the son of Professor Haushofer, who followed his father in the same field of study. Despite the fact that Albrecht claimed that no one in Britain, whatever his political inclination, could contemplate a pact with Adolf Hitler, they are drawing up a plan.

Albrecht Haushofer met the Duke of Hamilton in 1936, when the Duke went to Berlin for the Olympic Games. There are indications that the Duke may have been introduced to Rudolf Hess at the same time. The plan devised by Hess and Haushofer involves contacting the Duke in order to set up a meeting in a neutral country, most likely in Portugal, to discuss a peace plan. This must be done through an intermediary in Great Britain who, as if by chance, has just written to Professor Haushofer. This is Mrs. Violet Roberts, the widow of a Cambridge scholar, who knew the professor before the war. She apparently wrote to him to express her regret that the war was going on between their two countries and to suggest that they communicate via a post box that she opened in Lisbon. Everyone wonders what a Cambridge widow has to behave like this in the middle of a war; although there is no evidence, it is possible that British intelligence was involved.

Whatever the truth of the matter, Albrecht Haushofer responds to Mrs. Roberts in November 1940, signing his letter only with an "A" and asking him to deliver a message to the Duke of Hamilton. If the British secret services were not involved before, they are certainly now, because MI5 intercepts this letter. We do not know exactly what they did with it, although it is reasonable to assume that an investigation was made into Mrs. Roberts and the Duke. We don't know anything more about Mrs. Roberts and it can only be assumed that the Duke, an officer serving in the RAF, was found to be completely innocent. In the end, it looks like MI5 decided to do nothing.

The message was not delivered to the Duke and the letter went unanswered. Rudolf Hess fails to make contact with someone he believes is involved in a British peace party. As all chance of setting up a meeting in Portugal has disappeared, Rudolf Hess seems to have started to consider other means of getting in touch with the duke, and in particular by taking matters into his own hands and by surrendering himself. Scotland. It is not certain that Hitler was aware of all of this - he personally prohibited Rudolf Hess at the time from flying. So it is possible that Hess proposed the idea to him and that he refused it. If so, then Rudolf Hess disobeyed Hitler and left on his own initiative. Hearing that Hess had gone to Britain, Hitler is said to have erupted in violent anger, ordering the arrest of all those who had helped Rudolf Hess, including Albrecht Haushofer, and the shooting of Rudolf Hess for betraying his country , if he were to return to Germany.

The image that emerges from Germany is that of an increasingly desperate Rudolf Hess, doubting the success of the mission given to him by Adolf Hitler. During 1940 and 1941 Rudolf Hess was gradually sidelined within the Nazi party by more skillful politicians - in particular, by Martin Bormann. What Hess needs is a spectacular success that would restore his reputation in the eyes of Hitler. So rather than being an elaborate conspiracy, the case may be more of the wacky plan of a man who convinced himself that he could resolve the conflict between Britain and Germany of his own. alone. It's hard to say what Rudolf Hess imagined he could do; he seems to have paid little attention to the way he would be received in Britain. In truth, trying to find a rational explanation for the behavior of an irrational man is always an unnecessary exercise. That said, if all the files relating to the case are one day opened, the information could finally be revealed, making it possible to solve the enigma once and for all. Perhaps it is wishful thinking that the archives of the British government concerning the release of classified material will be opened. It seems that the mystery of the Rudolf Hess affair will last a long time.