In May 1941, Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s Deputy, fled Nazi Germany. The sudden appearance of Hess in Scotland baffled many. Hitler immediately announced that Hess had gone mad and had betrayed him when he was informed of his deputy leader’s flight and immediate imprisonment.
A skilled pilot, Hess flew a Me-110 to Scotland. He parachuted out of the aircraft while he was over Renfrewshire, Scotland. The British public was told that Hess had flown to Britain in an effort to sue for peace and that he wanted to meet members of the government (but not Winston Churchill) in an effort to secure such a peace. Hess wanted to use the Duke of Hamilton as an intermediary in setting up meetings etc.
However, in 2011 a new theory has been forwarded for what happened. The theory is that Hitler knew all along that Hess was going to make the flight and that he even agreed to it. This theory is the result of the recent finding of a notebook in Russian archives. With the end of the Cold War, the Russian authorities have been a lot more open with western historians with regards to what they have in their huge collection of wartime archives. A notebook by Major Karlheinz Pintsch has thrown up a different angle on what happened in May 1941 with regards to the flight of Hess. Pintsch is an important person in the story as he was the long-serving adjutant for Hess and would have known more than most about what Hess did and planned. The notebook states:
“(Hitler) hoped that an agreement with the Englishmen would be successful.”
Pintsch also wrote in his notebook that Hitler wanted peace with Britain so that he could turn his full attention to the USSR hopefully, in his mind, with the support of Britain – morally or even militarily. At the least, according to Pintsch, Hitler hoped for a promise of British neutrality.
It was the task of Pintsch to break the news to Hitler about the flight of Hess. Pintsch states in his notebook that Hitler did not fly into a rage, contrary to assumptions made about his behaviour. Pintsch claimed that Hitler remained calm and that he read allowed to all those assembled a private letter written to him by Hess that stated that Hitler was to announce that Hess had gone mad and was “out of my mind” if his mission to sue for peace failed.
In the immediate aftermath of the flight of Hess, Pintsch was arrested and kept in solitary confinement. He was not allowed to talk to anyone until he was sent to the Eastern Front in 1944, where the cause against the might of the Red Army was clearly failing. Was there a hope or an expectation that Pintsch would be killed while fighting? If that was the case, it failed as he was taken prisoner and kept by the Soviet authorities until 1955.
To many historians the implication of the notebook – that Hitler wanted to sue Britain for peace via a mission by Hess – is untenable. We do know that Pintsch was so badly beaten and tortured while a prisoner that he was incapable of using his hands for even the most basic of things. So how could he write a 28-page booklet? Did he use a scribe for his memories while incarcerated? We also know that the booklet was written in 1948 and that in that year Pintsch would have had no idea if he was ever to be released – so what did he have to gain by producing anything that was false? Supporters of Pintsch may argue that what he did was cathartic – getting ‘off of his cheat’ what he knew before he died, possibly/probably in the Soviet prison. He most certainly did not know that he was going to be released in 1955 and he would have seen many German POW’s die in captivity as a result of their mistreatment.
But if it was a Soviet forgery produced by the KGB, what would they have to gain from it? During the Cold War it would have been creditable within the USSR for Stalin and then his successors to spin the story that Hitler actually viewed Britain as a potential ally against the USSR and that the USSR had no reason to trust Churchill etc. at the war conferences. It would justify any actions taken by Stalin (even if he had to justify any of his actions to the Soviet people post-1945). However, this would only have worked if the Soviet public was aware of the booklet and its contents and it was discovered buried in archives years after the end of the Cold War and we have no record of its contents ever being made public during the early years of the Cold War when its contents would have been of use to the Soviet authorities.
The booklet proves nothing and many would see the whole theory as fanciful but it does make the flight of Rudolf Hess just that little bit more interesting. The flight achieved nothing – he never met anyone of consequence and was imprisoned for the remainder of World War Two. At the Nuremberg Trials he was sentenced to life in prison and spent the rest of his life at Spandau Prison. He was its last prisoner before his suicide in 1987 aged 93.