If it is worth a Chilcot to find out what Tony Blair said to George W. Bush, behind closed doors in Texas in 2002, how much more valuable would be certain knowledge that British dishonesty lured Hitler into the most disastrous invasion in history?
Two tireless researchers in this dangerous area have been John Harris and Peter Padfield. Both have now revised conclusions they drew in earlier books on the events of May 1941. They now conclude, for different reasons, that both Hitler and Churchill had foreknowledge of the doomed ‘solo’ peace flight that condemned Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess to a lifetime behind bars and sentenced 23 million Soviet citizens to death in the subsequent invasion of Russia, six weeks later.
John Harris and Richard Wilbourn argue in Rudolf Hess: A New Technical Analysis of the Hess Flight, May 1941 that the twin-engined Bf 110 fighter bomber flown by Hess on the night of the heaviest bombing raids on London, from an aircraft plant in Bavaria to Southern Scotland, must have landed for servicing during its 5 hour 40 minute flight of at least 900 miles.
A few aircraft experts have for years ‘unhelpfully’ pointed out that without external fuel tanks the Bf 110 could not have made the flight without landing to refuel.
Harris and Wilbourn cleverly steered clear of much discussion about whether or not the Bf 110 could have flown with fuel drop tanks. They found instead a different overriding limitation on the range of the aircraft, something blindingly obvious but never previously discussed in public.
The aeroplane’s two 1800 h.p. Daimler-Benz 601N engines would have been drinking engine oil, Schmierstoff, at between 5 and 9 litres every hour, drawing the lubricant from tanks buried in the wings:
An oil tank of 7.7 gallons [35 litres] was located behind each engine. The oil tanks from the Hess aircraft are currently in the RAF museum reserve collection at Stafford.
Each oil tank would be sufficient for a flight of just less than four hours flight, or perhaps nearly seven hours at a low engine power setting. For longer flights, a 16.5 gallon [75-litre] Schmierstoffbehälter [oil tank] would be fitted under the fuselage. It would usually be fitted at the same time as wing drop tanks to extend the range.
Reserve engine oil from a Schmierstoffbehälter had to be hand-pumped once every hour by a member of the crew of the plane, not by the pilot. On the Bf 110E, the fastest twin-engined three-seater in service anywhere at the time, the hand pump for the external reserve engine oil tank could not be reached by the pilot.
But Hess was flying alone. Wasn’t he?
When Harris and Wilbourn looked at wreckage from the aircraft in the Imperial War Museum at Duxford, they found a brass blanking cap closing the reserve engine oil line and securely wired up against coming loose by vibration. Bf 110E/2-N number 3869 had been flown to Britain without a Schmierstoffbehälter.
The authors have concluded that Hess refuelled somewhere in North Germany, where a Luftwaffe mechanic would have been able to refill the small engine oil tanks in the wings, without which the two dry sump engines would have disintegrated during the later stages of a flight tracked by the Royal Observer Corps at high speeds of 325 miles per hour [522 kph] over the Cheviot hills.
This conveniently explains some of the obvious fabrications created by Hess after his arrival in Britain and which he proudly described in a letter written when he was on trial at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal in 1946.
He needed to show that his flight was made without the knowledge of Hitler or the assistance of the Luftwaffe. He also sought to disguise the fact that his solo navigation depended on a Lorenz blind flying instrument working on secret German radio beacon systems known as Sonne and Elektra.
Harris and Wilbourn have decoded a marking system on one of Hess’s flight maps and have proved its correlation to a Lorenz FuG 10EL receiver. They even acquired a receiver to test it, speculating that various items of navigation equipment from the wreck of the plane ‘were rushed to RAE Farnborough for examination’,
They were not to know that when the wreck of the Hess plane reached an RAF maintenance unit in the railway goods yard at Carluke, Lanarkshire, a ‘blind flying panel’ was indeed removed by a young RAF instrument mechanic from Burnley called David Mitchell.
Mitch. Come up here. They’re bringing in Hess’s. It’s an E.
As I was climbing in, I noticed the rear part of the cockpit seemed skinned over. I tested for oxygen in the cockpit and then I removed the blind flying panel. I made a wooden box for it.
Further proof of the clarity of Mitch’s memory was found by Harris and Wilbourn lying on a pallet at the RAF Museum reserve collection in Area 6 at the Ministry of Defence depot Stafford:
A leather or fabric tonneau cover, presumably from the rear of the observer’s cockpit. Ref. 137480.
The authors say other items on the ‘Hess pallet’ at MoD Stafford ‘proved to us that there was only one person on board’.
If the Luftwaffe were involved, Harris concludes that its commander, Hermann Goering, knew about the flight plan.
On May 1, Hess was filmed addressing a mass meeting of 8,000 Messerchmitt aircraft workers at the Augsburg-Haunstetten works, from where he took off for Scotland nine days later. We also know that Hess and Hitler talked behind closed doors on May 4.
The German night fighter commander Adolf Galland in his book The First and the Last said Goering telephoned him at a base in France in the early evening of May 10.
In a Dutch television interview, just before he died, Galland said:
That evening I was phoned by Goering who was staying near Berlin. I remember the order from him verbatim: “Scramble immediately with your whole squadron.”
And I replied to him, “We haven’t any intruders.”
He repeated, “You are not going to intercept intruders. You must intercept an outward flight. The Deputy Fuhrer Rudolf Hess has gone mad and is on his way to England in a Messerschmitt 110.”
I replied to Goering, “In twenty minutes we’ll be in late twilight. There will be hardly be visibility for spotting one single 110 with Hess on board. At this time of the day there will lots of Messerchmitt night fighters in the air, on radio-tuning flights, calibrating and co-ordinating their radio sets. It will be dangerous for me to say a 110 has to be shot down, one of our own night fighters, a 110 night fighter entering your sector.”
To that, Goering said, “Find a way to do it. The order stands.”
I then rang my three commanders… one after another and said, “Let’s just send out a pair.” That means fly off two planes and make a 15 minute flight in the area of their airfields and then let them land again. This is exactly what happened… After the flight, I had telephoned Goering again and said, “The squadron has landed, it’s dark. As expected we could not achieve our mission.”
Goering replied, “It really doesn’t matter. We already know that Hess has taken another route that doesn’t pass through your sector.”
Any such scramble ordered by Goering was sheer window dressing, since Hess was already approaching the Northumberland coast when Goering made the call. Harris and Wilbourn say Goering’s telephone call
seems to us to be nonsense, purely to enable him to back up the solo flight myth that was shortly to be officially communicated to the world.
Peter Padfield notes that Hess’s driver, SS Untersturmführer Rudolf Lippert, after release from Soviet captivity and torture, told Hess’s son that after taking Hess to Augsburg for the flight, he was arrested by the Gestapo in Gallspach, Austria, at 05:30 on May 11:
several hours before staff and other witnesses at the Berghof recorded Hess’s adjutant, Karl-Heinz Pintsch, arriving with a letter from Hess informing Hitler that he had flown to Britain.
Both Harris and Padfield are very sure that the British also knew about the flight. President Roosevelt suspected that the British knew, which was quite enough to cause the British government to close the files on Hess until 2017.
Would Americans of any political persuasion have allowed Roosevelt to lend Britain arms, aircraft and cargo ships under the new March 1941 Lend-Lease policy, which would eventually amount to 17% of their entire war effort, if they had known Churchill was negotiating with Hitler?
Would Stalin have agreed to let the Brits delay D-Day until 1944 if he had known for certain that MI6 had lured Hitler into invading the Soviet Union in 1941?
The Soviet agent in MI6, Harold ‘Kim’ Philby, told a Russian contact that
the time for peace negotiations has not arrived but that later in the course of the war Hess could become the centre of intrigues for a compromise peace.
A May 22 telegram from Philby’s NKVD contact in London to Moscow Centre has turned up in the Kremlin files – marked for special attention. Stalin later taunted Churchill with his suspicions.
Would the exiled governments of Poland, France, Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands and Norway, sheltering in England and lending their pilots to the RAF, have condoned such a negotiated peace?
Peter Padfield, in Hess, Hitler and Churchill – The Real Turning Point of the Second World War, argues that Hess was lured to Britain in an MI6 sting operation, using British diplomats and aristocrats.
The diplomats and aristocrats were men who had been Churchill’s political opponents before the war, all the more convincing, and perfectly in the spirit of Churchill’s remark:
In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.
Padfield interviewed an academic who worked at the BBC in Portland Place on the analysis of documents found after Hess crashed the plane near Glasgow. He says this was a draft peace treaty, typed on Reichskanzlerei paper with numbered clauses and an attached English translation:
This was not a renegade plot. Hitler had sent Hess and he brought over a fully developed peace treaty for Germany to evacuate all the occupied countries in the West.
New evidence in both books chimes with some well-documented events on May 10 that never fitted into the official British or German legend that Hitler and Churchill had no foreknowledge of the flight.
Two RAF fighter pilots, Sgt. Václav ‘Felix’ Bauman and Sgt Leopold ‘Polda’ Šrom, told Czech technical researchers long after the war that they were scrambled from Aldergrove, near Belfast, to intercept an unidentified enemy plane over the Irish Sea on the evening of May 10.
Flying Hurricanes, they were seconds away from shooting down the intruder when RAF Aldergrove, code-named ‘Castle’, ordered them to break off their attack.
Bauman recounted the event to author Jirí Rajlich:
Felix calling Castle. I see the bandit, angels eight.
OK Felix. He is yours.
As Bauman closed he discovered he was pursuing a rarely seen Bf 110. Even more surprising, the expected rear gunner in the German plane did not open fire. Šrom called Bauman in Czech:
Watch out, Vacek. It’s a 110.
Šrom, a famous fighter ace, suspected an ambush. Wary of the rear gunner in the 110 he approached from its left as Bauman closed on its right side. To their astonishment, Aldergrove then radioed:
Hello Felix. Castle calling. Stop action and return to base.
This is perhaps not possible.
Felix, return. I repeat. Stop action and return. Confirm.
He is just in shooting range…
Sorry Felix, old boy. It is not possible. You must return. Now.
I don’t bloody know. Then why should we chase him?
Squadron Leader J.W.C. Simpson, a Battle of Britain ace, answered Bauman’s question when the two Hurricanes landed back at Aldergrove.
John Simpson was that day celebrating the May 10 announcement in the London Gazette of the award of a bar to his DFC for flying a Hurricane at night during the April Belfast blitz and shooting down a Heinkel bomber over Downpatrick.
His base vectored their own aircraft on May 10 because the landline to the Preston filter centre was cut during a heavy German raid on the city centre of Belfast that destroyed two thirds of the Harland and Wolff shipyard on the night of May 4/5.
In a letter that month to the prominent author Hector Bolitho, then acting as editor of the Royal Air Force Weekly Bulletin, John Simpson wrote:
I received the telegram while I was sitting in my office. I read it and threw it across to the Adj., who said, “Congratulations, sir, may I go and tell the boys?” They soon came and leaned through the window, saying nice things. Chipper said, “We presume that this means a party.”
Well it certainly did. When I went over to the mess in the evening there was a notice on the board to say that the Station Commander had approved of a party being given in my honour. Cocktails, supper and dancing.
It was a riot. Hundreds of people came to the cocktail party and the band played on the lawn.
At the cocktail party were the prime-minister of Northern Ireland, John Miller Andrews, the air officer commanding Northern Ireland, who was the future Air marshal Sir Roddy Carr, and the Marquess of Londonderry who was a deluded magnate, popular in the RAF for his enthusiasm for flying but politically discredited by 1941 for his disastrous meeting with Hitler in the days of appeasement.
Simpson gave Bauman an explanation for the recall:
I rang Group and I requested an explanation of that… ehm, unusual procedure. I was told that during your pursuit you crossed the border of our sector. You were therefore recalled. Our neighbours should have taken over but when the German suddenly changed his altitude, they lost him.
Stihaci Pilot by Jirí Senhal and Jirí Rajlich, published in Prague in 1991, records what happened later that night:
After dark, a liaison Avro Anson landed with several strange RAF officers on board. The sergeants were separately subjected to intensive interrogation. The officers asked for impossible details and urged both pilots to recall the German plane’s markings and whether they saw both a pilot and a gunner.
Speculation raged at Aldergrove for a couple of days until a copy of the Daily Record landed in the 245 Squadron mess, carrying the headline Rudolf Hess in Glasgow – official.
Bauman was posted ‘missing’ in June 1942, shot down in a Spitfire by an FW190 in a raid on Le Havre. He survived, but with wounds so serious that the Germans repatriated him to England via Sweden in 1944.
Czechs who flew for the RAF were often very badly treated in post-war Communist Czechoslovakia. Bauman returned to his home town of Holice but did not show the Hess interception entry in his pilot’s log book to Jirí Rajlich until very near the end of the Communist era. Bauman said,
It was all somehow strange to me. Controllers did not generally bother us about sector boundaries. Using my farmer’s brain, I put it together and I get only one solution. The British secret service must have known that the plane was coming and they had an interest in getting this Nazi in good condition.
Neither the Aldergrove operational records nor the logbook of Šrom shows any record of an interception over the North Channel that night. There was of course a riotous party on the base that night.
Nevertheless, a remarkably reliable confirmation came in 1999 from the Lancashire-based researcher Tony Marczan after he placed a classified advert in Air Mail, the journal of the Royal Air Forces Association. It was cleverly and very simply worded:
245 Sqn Aldergrove May 1941. Researcher seeks any veterans.
From his home in Clacton, Essex, former Leading Aircraftsman David ‘Mac’ McCormack telephoned Marczan, without knowing the purpose of the investigation.
Mac had recently retired from managing the members’ travel arrangements at the House of Commons. He had been a mechanic with 245 Squadron in 1941. As soon as Marczan mentioned Czech pilots, Mac said,
I know what you want. They’re the two guys that could have shot down Rudolf Hess, if they hadn’t been recalled.
I remember the incident well. I must have been in the crew room or a radio truck when the two aircraft from B-Flight were scrambled.
The Flight Sergeant sent me to the ops room with a form 700 to sign off an aeroplane as available for ops. In the ops room the Flight Sergeant there said, “You might as well listen to this.”
I heard all the radio traffic, as it was happening. Our pilots were recalled, when they could have shot him down. It was a couple of days before we found out who was in the plane. I’ve often wondered if they sent ours up to head him back after he’d overshot Scotland. That’s where he was heading, towards the Duke of Hamilton who was at Turnhouse, in charge of all our fighters in Scotland.
Marczan pointed out this week that if John Simpson had called ‘Group’ that night for the explanation he gave Bauman, he would have called the RAF at Turnhouse, commanded by the Duke of Hamilton, the very man Hess wanted to reach and the man who next morning met him at a barracks in Glasgow.
For the rest of a long life, the Duke denied that he had previously met Hess at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. After following orders to fly to Kidlington near Oxford he found himself faced with Winston Churchill at Ditchley Park,
What do you tell your wife if a prostitute throws her arms around your neck?
Harris and Wilbourn point out just how strong is the circumstantial evidence of British collusion. Not only was the Duke of Hamilton on duty that evening in control of Western Scottish airspace, but the eastern part of the Hess flight route was covered by RAF Acklington, controlled by John Oliver Andrews, a new commanding officer with a brilliant service and academic career whose ‘appointment seems an anomaly in his career’:
We now wonder if his appointment was more to do with his proficiency in German and intelligence matters, should an unexpected visitor arrive.
The authors wholly accept that the above interpretation can be seen as stretching facts to fit theories, were it not for our meeting with Dougal McIntyre and his wife at their Prestwick home. Dougal, it will be remembered, is the son of David E. McIntyre, the joint founder of Prestwick Aerodrome and Scottish Aviation Limited. On the night of 10 May 1941, we know he was at Prestwick.
We went to the meeting with a list of questions, including a list of names of individuals that we wanted to know if his father knew. The name of J.O. Andrews drew the response: “I can’t add anything other than the name.” We took that to mean that his father knew Andrews, which should not come as much of a surprise, given that Andrews was in charge of an aerodrome in No 13 Group air space.
Consequently, all we can say for certain in respect of RAF command in Scotland that evening is that the commanding officer of No 13 Group was a German expert, the Duke of Hamilton in the Turnhouse sector had some significant links with Germany, and that the base commander at RAF Prestwick / Ayr was an extremely close friend of the Duke of Hamilton and the Duke of Kent, the brother of King George VI.
Once Hess had avoided interception over the Northumberland coast, realistically he was unlikely to encounter any further problems [given that he would be flying in failing light over a very sparsely populated area] until he reached the West Coast of Scotland. This is exactly what happened…
If there was a British conspiracy at work that day, all they needed was oversight. Full control would require more people to be involved and therefore be much more difficult to manage, disguise or deny. We believe that less than ten people needed to know what was happening.
Unfortunately, for the British conspiracy, there was one very important man in the Cabinet with his own non-diplomatic links to Nazi Germany, even possibly to socialists among the aircraft workers at Augsburg-Haunstetten through the International Transport Workers’ Federation.
This was the Minister of Labour, Ernest Bevin, described by Churchill as
by far the most distinguished man that the Labour Party have thrown up in my time.
Both the new books mention Ernie Bevin’s previously unexplained early knowledge of the Hess flight, although neither gives it the relevance it deserves.
Harris and Wilbourn think Bevin was part of the British deception plan. Padfield suggests Albert James Heal, a retired official of Bevin’s Transport and General Workers Union who told his story to a Yorkshire Post reporter in 1969, got his dates mixed up.
In fact Bevin’s speech at a War Weapons lunch in London on May 15, declaring that he was convinced Hitler knew Hess had planned the peace mission, was well ‘off message’:
From my point of view Hess is a murderer. You can understand my feeling about him when I tell you that he was the man who collected every index card of every trade union leader in Germany and every social democrat, and when the time came they were either in a concentration camp or murdered.
My own views on this adventure I will not express at this gathering, further than to say that I do not believe that Hitler did not know that Hess was coming to England.
In 1969, Albert Heal described deciphering a message sent by a woman in Germany through underground socialist channels to Ernest Bevin. At home in Leeds, he told reporter Malcolm Pithers that Bevin phoned him on May 9, 1941:
Bevin asked me if I would be at a meeting organised by the regional office of the Ministry of Labour at the Civic Hall, Sheffield, that night. I told him that I had not been invited.
He asked me to meet him there just the same at 6:30 p.m., as he wanted to talk to me urgently.
When I got there, Bevin met me in a private room and showed me the coded message he had received from his contact, a girl that I knew. The code she had used was invented by me when – and I think it’s safe to admit this now – I was secretary of the South Wales No More War Movement. The code had been passed on to her by me some time before. I had used the code to keep in contact with the people we helped to get out of the country. We got 18 to Ireland and 17 to America.
Bevin asked me to decipher the message. I did so and I was satisfied that it said Hess was to fly to Britain.
Born in Somerset, like Bevin, Heal had been a coal miner in South Wales before the TGWU chose him as Yorkshire organiser.
After partially decoding the message in Sheffield, he drove Bevin ‘on two wheels’ to the Queens Hotel in Leeds, where on the evening of May 9, in one of the bedrooms, he overheard part of Bevin’s telephone conversation with Churchill. Hess took off for Britain from Bavaria at 5.42 p.m. the following afternoon. The clocks in both countries matched each other at this time. Albert Heal said:
I thought at the time, from the conversation, that the Prime Minister thought it was all a joke, especially when Bevin told him that Hess would try and contact the Duke of Hamilton. After the call we sat down and had some refreshments. No other message came from the Prime Minister. Bevin told me to go home and meet him at 9:30 the next morning.
When I arrived the following day he told me that Hess had landed in Scotland but under no circumstances was I to disclose the information in my possession.
Peter Padfield suggests that in 1969 the 80 year old retired TGWU official got his dates mixed up, since ‘the following day’ would have been May 10, when Hess was still in Germany. But this confusion seems to have been caused by sub-editing for brevity at the Yorkshire Post, since Professor Scott Newton, author of Profits of Peace: the political economy of Anglo-German appeasement, has recently discovered wartime news reports in the Hull Daily Mail that fully support Albert Heal’s account of Bevin’s movements before the Hess flight to Scotland.
On April 21, 1941, the Hull paper reported an announcement from the North-Eastern Regional Officer of the Ministry of Information:
Mr Ernest Bevin, Minister of Labour, will address public meetings to be held under the auspices of the local information committees at Sheffield, Leeds, and Hull on May 9, 10, and 11.
The all-ticket meeting at the City Hall in Sheffield was timed for 6:30 p.m. on May 9, exactly as recounted by Albert Heal in 1969.
On May 10, the morning after Heal drove Bevin to Leeds and before Hess took off from Germany, under the headline ‘Mr Bevin’s Hull Meeting’, the Hull Daily Mail announced:
owing to unforeseen circumstances, the meeting to be addressed by Mr Ernest Bevin, Minister of Labour, in Hull on Sunday, has been cancelled.
Professor Newton said,
These events concern the most critical moments of the Second World War. The Hull Daily Mail announcement of Bevin’s cancelled meeting and the schedule of his speaking tour exactly match the account given by Albert Heal in 1969.
The public meeting in Hull was cancelled before the first announcement of the Hess flight on German radio on the evening of May 12. In Britain, the flight was kept secret until 6:00 a.m. on May 13. It is possible that this old newspaper story may yet lead us to a discovery of worldwide importance. Mr Heal’s documents might have survived somewhere in Yorkshire.
Whether Peter Padfield, born in India in 1932, or even younger men like John Harris and Richard Wilbourn, might ever see Britain accept responsibility for a wartime deception with such unparalleled and horrifying consequences remains very uncertain. The British were very good at keeping secrets.
Noting that Harris and Wilbourn think the Hess deception was perhaps restricted to fewer than ten British service chiefs, one is reminded that Ultra, the Bletchley Park code breaking secret, was kept tight as a drum for over thirty years by more than 10,000 ordinary British citizens. The British are still fairly good at keeping secrets.
Rudolf Hess: A New Technical Analysis of the Hess Flight, May 1941, The History Press, Stroud, 2014, ISBN 978 0 7524 9708.
Hess, Hitler and Churchill: The Real Turning Point of the Second World War – A Secret History, Icon, 2013, ISBN: 9781848316027.
TONY MARCZAN writes:
A Bf 110 would have been a rare intruder in UK airspace in May 1941.
During the main air battle in the South of England in Summer 1940 the loss rate of these aircraft was very high. On 15 August 1940 a major attack on the north east of England by Luftflotte 5 from Scandinavia, including a number of Bf 110s with “dachshund belly” extra fuel tanks, was resoundingly defeated by the fighter squadrons of Air vice-marshal “Birdie” Saul’s 13 Group. From Autumn 1940 the use of these aircraft in the attacks on the UK was virtually suspended.
So where else might the Bf 110 chased in the Bauman and Srom interception have come from?
German reconnaissance and lone raider aircraft from Luftflotte 3 in France flew north up the Irish Sea and often via the airspace of the Irish Free State to reach the waters north of Northern Ireland which were vital to the British war effort. Radar stations in Wales and Northern Ireland were only ordered in Autumn 1940 and were only just becoming operational in April 1941. The order of battle of Luftflotte 3 in August 1940 shows six Aufklaeregruppen [reconnaissance groups] with a total of 72 aircraft of which 11 were Bf 110s. In June 1941 five of these groups are shown to be deployed on Eastern fronts, leaving just one group [Aufklaeregruppe 123] in Luftflotte 3 in France. This unit is shown as having six Bf 110s of which four were serviceable [Alfred Price ; The Luftwaffe Data Book].
It has not been possible to ascertain the exact time of the Bauman and Srom interception of 10 May 1941. Even if “their” Bf 110 was a reconnaissance aircraft in mid-afternoon, why were they ordered to break off the attack? This order contravened the Standing Orders for the Air Defence of the United Kingdom which clearly states in the first paragraph that any hostile aircraft approaching or within UK airspace WILL BE SHOT DOWN. Was the break off order from Group given because someone was expected?