May 10, 1941 — Hitler's deputy, Rudolf Hess, mysteriously parachuted into Scotland on this day intending to negotiate a peace deal with the British. He did so without the knowledge of the Führer, who was absolutely livid when he heard the news.
Hess had met the Duke of Hamilton at the Berlin Olympics in 1936 and learned that the duke was a member of a far-right group who were interested in a "German-English agreement."
He hoped that Hamilton would arrange for him to meet King George VI, believing he could persuade the king to sack Winston Churchill, then Britain could make peace with Germany and join forces against the Soviet Union.
At 6,000 feet and within 30 miles of the duke's residence near Glasgow, Hess bailed out of the Messerschmitt that he had piloted by himself and parachuted safely to the ground. His first contact was a Scottish farmer who was told in English by Hess: "I have an important message for the Duke of Hamilton."
Interrogated at an army barracks, he proposed that the British should allow Germany to dominate Europe, in return for which the British Empire would be safe from attack by Adolf Hitler. He insisted that German victory in the war was inevitable and threatened that the British people would be starved to death by a blockade around the country unless his generous peace offer was accepted.
Hitler quickly issued a statement saying that his deputy was mentally disordered and "a victim of hallucinations." He immediately stripped Hess of all the ranks he held in the Nazi party including being a party member and secretly ordered him shot on sight if he ever returned to Germany.
Hess was born Rudolf Walter Richard Hess in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1894, the son of a Bavarian wholesaler and exporter. He did not live in Germany until he was 14.
When the First World War broke out in 1914 he enlisted in the 7th Bavarian Field Artillery Regiment as an infantryman, was wounded several times and won the Iron Cross in 1915.
Sharing Hitler's stab-in-the-back notion that Germany's failure to win the 1914-18 war was caused by a conspiracy of Jews and Bolsheviks rather than a military defeat, Hess joined the Nazi party in 1920 and quickly became Hitler’s friend and confidant.
He was at Hitler’s side in November 1923 for the Beer Hall Putsch, a failed Nazi attempt to seize control of the government of Bavaria. While the pair were serving time in jail for this attempted coup, Hess helped Hitler write his book, Mein Kampf, which became a foundation of the Nazis' political platform.
After the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, Hess was appointed Deputy Führer and as well as appearing on Hitler’s behalf at speaking engagements and rallies, he signed into law much of the legislation that stripped German Jews of their rights.
Hess’s peace proposals met with no response from the British government and he was held prisoner until the end of the war.
In 1946 he was sent for trial at Nuremberg where he was acquitted on charges related to war crimes and crimes against humanity, but convicted of crimes against peace.
In his final speech to the judges he continued to display loyalty to Hitler, declaring: "It was granted me for many years to live and work under the greatest son whom my nation has brought forth in the thousand years of its history.
"Even if I could, I would not expunge this period from my existence. I regret nothing. If I were standing once more at the beginning I should act once again as I did then, even if I knew that at the end I should be burnt at the stake."
He was sentenced to life imprisonment and with other Nazi leaders sent to Spandau Prison in Berlin. After 1966 he was the only prisoner there. Hess was held as Prisoner No. 7, always denied parole, and hanged himself in the grounds of the jail on 17 August 1987 at the age of ninety-three.
After his death the prison was demolished to prevent it from becoming a neo-Nazi shrine.
Published: April 30, 2018