Scotsman 200: Hess lands to ‘help Britain overthrow Nazi tyranny’

Soldiers and policemen in Eaglesham inspect the wreckage of the Messerschmitt ME-110 in which Nazi leader Rudolf Hess made his solo flight to Scotland. Picture: Hulton Archive/Getty Images.
Soldiers and policemen in Eaglesham inspect the wreckage of the Messerschmitt ME-110 in which Nazi leader Rudolf Hess made his solo flight to Scotland. Picture: Hulton Archive/Getty Images.
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To mark the 200th anniversary of The Scotsman, we are dipping into our archives to bring you a selection of some of the biggest stories of the last two centuries. This month we are recalling the two world wars, reproducing The Scotsman’s original coverage of many of the wartime events which directly touched Scotland, such as the scuttling of the German fleet at Scapa Flow, the loss of the Iolaire, and German air attacks on Scotland over the Forth. Today we feature the surprise arrival of Nazi leader Rudolf Hess in Scotland in 1941, after a solo flight from Germany crash-landed at Eaglesham. The Deputy Führer said he wanted to speak to the Duke of Hamilton, in an attempt to get Britian to the negotiating table.

THURSDAY, 15 MAY 1941

It is now permitted to be stated that Rudolf Hess flew to Scotland in an attempt to visit the Duke of Hamilton, whom he is said to have met on several occasions before the war in connection with matters of sport, in which they were both interested. According to a semi-official statement issued in Berlin last night, Hess was desirous of bringing the war to a close and “thought that Hamilton and his colleagues in Britain had the necessary influence.”

It can also be disclosed now that Hess had made an attempt to communicate with the Duke of Hamilton by letter some months ago.

The Duke immediately placed the letter in the hands of the security authorities and no reply was made to Hess.

It has, of course, already been stated in authoritative circles in London that Hess did not arrive with any peace overtures, that he was not on a mission or carrying any message, that his flight was an escape, and that he came in defiance of authority.

PENCIL RING AROUND DUNGAVEL

Hess’s destination was Dungavel, the Duke’s home, which is about six miles south of Strathaven, in Lanarkshire, near the border of Ayrshire. He landed near the Renfrewshire village of Eaglesham, about 12 or 14 miles north-west of Dungavel.

Hess had a map on which his route from Augsburg, South Germany, was marked in blue pencil. The line ended at Dungavel, which was ringed in blue pencil.

When, on Saturday night, he baled out in Renfrewshire, some eight miles from Glasgow, the first thing he asked Mr David McLean, the ploughman who assisted him out of his parachute harness, was the way to Dungavel.

He had mistaken a large house he had sighted as the mansion he was seeking, and, failing to find a suitable landing ground, decided to descend by parachute. Despite the injury to his ankle, he wanted to be taken to the Duke’s house, which he thought was nearby.

According to Mr McLean he did not say why he wanted to see the Duke, but he was obviously very anxious to do so.

The Duke, who is on active service with the Royal Air Force, was not in Dungavel.

WHAT HESS SAID

Hess is reported to have told the farm people of the hardships now being experienced in Germany, and of the great distress that prevails among the people there over the bombing by the RAF of the towns and the sufferings of the civilian population.

He said he had a message of great importance to deliver to the Duke of Hamilton, with whom he had been previously associated, and who shared his interests in skiing and flying, and in whose exploits in flying over Mount Everest he was particularly interested.

He said that when the Duke was Marquess of Douglas and Clydesdale he knew him well, and that he had flown to Scotland and made his estate his objective, as he had valuable information to give the Duke. He said that this information would be of great use to the British in overthrowing the tyranny that now prevailed in the Reich.

He stated that he had made the most painstaking preparations for his flight from Germany. This statement was borne out by maps he had used for navigation, on all of which the Duke’s estates were ringed in a circle.

It was a tribute to Hess’s capabilities as a pilot that he should arrive in Scotland and land at a point in such close proximity to his objectives.

BERLIN’S EXPLANATION

A semi-official statement issued in Berlin runs:-

“Rudolf Hess left a considerable number of notes behind him before starting off for Britain. From these it may be deduced that he thought himself in a position to reach a peaceful understanding between Germany and Britain, if he could succeed in ‘bringing the truth to Britain.’

“The motive of his action, which was in complete misunderstanding of the actual possibilities – and in the manner in which it was carried out can only be explained by the existence of mental derangement – appears, in the first instance, to have been prompted by reasons of humanity, for which he was very receptive by reason of his physical ailment.

“Rudolf Hess was naturally not initiated in the plans of the High Military Command of the Reich, which are known only to a very small circle, but he knew enough to be convinced that the prosecution of the war by the Germans and the British to the bitter end, irrespective of what support Britain might receive, would end not only in defeat but in the destruction of Britain.

He knew Britain had made false statements, not only about the military but also about the economic conditions in Germany.

“He believed that it would be possible to convince Britain of the insane attitude of her leaders, if he could succeed in enlightening other British personalities as to the true position.”

HESS IN GOOD SPIRITS IN HOSPITAL

Rudolf Hess is making good progress towards recovery. His injured ankle is yielding to treatment, and the slight abrasions to his arm are healing rapidly. He is stated to be in excellent spirits, and enjoys the light diet of chicken, fish and eggs. He may be sufficiently rested in a few days to leave the hospital where, of course his room is unostentatiously under military guard.

He is reading a lot, generally light English literature, and short stories. He hears the BBC bulletins, and converses with the officer on guard and the nurses.

PLANE TO BE EXHIBITED

He has already talked at length to Mr Ivone Kirkpatrick, who, on Foreign Office instructions, flew from London to his bedside. It is understood that Hess has talked freely, and has given the British authorities a considerable amount of data that can be catalogued as “highly useful information.”

Detectives checked all arrivals yesterday at the hospital where Hess is detained. A military guard has also been posted at the gates. Authorised persons alone are allowed to pass.

The remains of his plane are to be exhibited during London’s coming War Weapons Week.