Hess, Hitler and Churchill: The Real Turning Point of the Second World War - A Secret History Kindle Edition
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Consider first the curious timing of this event. Hess, the deputy Fuhrer of the Third Reich, took off in an ME-110 from Germany to Scotland on May 10 1941. Up until this point in the war, the Axis had experienced only success. Just a few weeks after the Hess flight on June 22 Hitler would launch Operation Barbarossa, the disastrous invasion of the Soviet Union. After the Hess flight, the Axis forces would experience no more strategic victories. The Hess flight truly was, as Peter Padfield puts it, "The real turning point of the Second World War".
This is a fascinating book for anyone interested in WW2 history.
Christopher Kelly is the author of America Invades: How We've Invaded or been Militarily Involved with almost Every Country on Earth and Italy Invades
In this book, renowned naval historian and biographer Peter Padfield purports to tentatively answer these questions. While his thesis is less new than the publicity hype would suggest -- It is quite similar to those advanced, for example, by John Costello in "Ten Days to Destiny" or by Picknett et al in their somewhat sensationalist but still very well-researched "Double Standards: The Rudolf Hess Cover-Up" -- it remains remarkable: Hess's mission was sanctioned by Hitler, and comprised an offer to cease occupation of Western Europe in return for peace with Britain, intended to leave him free to pursue "Operation Barbarossa" and his long-awaited war against International Communism.
At the time, many Englishmen were receptive to such ideas. Leading politicians, industrialists and military men were acutely aware of Britain's weak and rapidly declining international stature: her empire was a giant with feet of clay, and Churchill's policy of "victory at any price" seemed bound to consign her to impotence and misery once the bills were to be paid. (The story of Britain's sad postwar decline by and large proved these fears correct.) Further, it seemed incredible to these men that all these sacrifices should be made, in essence, only to help bail out Stalin's Soviet Union, Hitler's main enemy. It was difficult for them to see how Communism was any improvement over Nazism; such a stance becomes even more understandable when one bears in mind that by this time the Nazis had not yet initiated any genocide, whereas the Soviet Union was already infamous for its murder of some six million Ukrainians and others in the 1930s.
Together, such staunchly anti-Communist luminaries as Marquess Tavistock, Lord Clydesdale, the Duke of Kent and numerous others made up a powerful "Peace Party" which wished to negotiate a reasonable peace with Germany. Hitler, as well, seems to have wished for such an agreement, as he sought to concentrate entirely on the Eastern Front. There was a surprising amount of secret diplomacy and several semi-official initiatives surrounding these matters which is rarely mentioned in the textbooks; much of it is briefly summarized in Padfield's early chapters. All such efforts failed, however, owing to the determined opposition of Churchill, who was convinced that Germany must be destroyed at any cost.
The thread Padfield concentrates on is, of course, that which, through the enigmatic Professor Haushofer, connected Rudolf Hess with the Duke of Hamilton and his friends in the Peace Party. He quotes numerous documents, but even so succeeds only in establishing the bare basics of their communications. Were they all acting in good faith, or had Churchill's agents infiltrated the Hamilton group, using it to lure Hess into captivity (as historian Louis Kilzer, among others, has suggested)? Frustratingly, the documentary evidence is scant enough to be interpreted in different ways, and many key documents are still classified or missing.
That Hess in any case eventually flew to England, hoping to negotiate with the British leaders, is well known. Padfield's controversial argument is that this was done with Hitler's blessing; in other words, Hess's peace proposal was not the act of a lone crank, but had official sanction. Basing his case on the testimony of several important witnesses, the author reconstructs a "conspiracy" in which not only Hitler, but also Göring, Goebbels, Himmler and Messerschmitt approved and aided the Hess mission. While Hitler disavowed Hess after learning that he was held captive, this meant only that he did not wish to display weakness before the world in admitting to a failed plea for peace; Hess had agreed to full deniability as he left Germany.
While there are no obvious reasons to rule out such a scenario, and many circumstantial threads pointing in similar directions, there is also ultimately no hard evidence in its favor. Consequently, a certain reserve is called for in evaluating it. Yet if true, its implications are profound. And the same can be said for much else in Padfield's elaborate construct of interlocking theories.
It should be said that this is probably the most "conspiratorial" history I have read so far by a widely cited and respected mainstream author. Padfield believes that there is more than meets the eye to a great number of mysterious incidents of the early war, not merely the Hess case. For example, he follows Eduard Calic in supposing that high-ranking members of the SS security apparatus were involved in Georg Elser's attempted bombing of Hitler at the Bürgerbräu Keller on November 8, 1939. (A somewhat implausible theory, in my opinion. In an age when timed fuses were still experimental and more than a little unreliable and inexact, it seems much too daring to expose Hitler to a live bomb.) And his words about the anti-German activities of various Jewish lobby groups may draw upon him accusations of anti-Semitism. For example:
"Churchill was convinced (...) that the Balfour Declaration of 1917 promising the Jews a permanent home in Palestine had been instrumental in mobilizing American-Jewish support for US entry into the First World War. Since 1933 Nazi treatment of Jews had made the American-Jewish lobby a committed ally in his struggle against Hitler from the back benches. In this sense Hitler and Hess had grounds for their paranoia about an international Jewish conspiracy against Germany: they had called it down upon themselves." (p. 68)
Elsewhere he writes that Churchill, before he became Prime Minister, was financed by Jewish lobby groups; for example, in 1938 the Moravian Jew Henry Strakosch paid him £18,162 (equivalent to millions of dollars in 2015). It should be noted, however, that Padfield explicitly disavows any notion that "Churchill felt beholden to or was bribed by the Jewish interest." Surely he is no anti-Semite, even if oversensitive minds may unfortunately read such things into his book.
At other times, the author throws in "bombshells" of historical fact which are not in and of themselves conspiratorial, but which have truly stunning implications for our understanding of World War II. In one instance he mentions, seemingly in a throwaway line, documents which show that Churchill and President Roosevelt were discussing "Lend-Lease," Roosevelt's program of waging undeclared war against Germany through British proxies, in private telegrams in the spring of 1940. If this datum is to be trusted, not only does this overthrow our entire present understanding of domestic American politics in 1940, which holds that Roosevelt came up with this idea only late in this year. It also shows that the published editions of the "complete" Churchill-Roosevelt correspondence on which historians rely, which contain no telegrams from this period treating any such matters, are in fact quite incomplete. Have historically important documents been suppressed? At the least, such allegations, coming from a serious historian, must call for independent investigation.
In view of such radical claims, it is almost surprising that on the actual matter of Rudolf Hess himself, the author is comparatively restrained. For example, he does not connect Hess's rapid mental dcline in captivity with possible British attempts to brainwash him, as some other authors have done (though he does consider it "possible, or even likely" that Hess was treated with mind-altering drugs (p. 238)). And he dismisses the conspiracy theory that Hess was killed in captivity and replaced with a double, who feigned amnesia as he stood trial at Nuremberg. Even without extravagant elaborations, however, the story of Hess's captivity makes for uncomfortable reading; it reminds one all too much of abuses in secret prisons in our own time. British documents record that the tormented Hess twice attempted suicide.
It is difficult even to attempt to sum up a book which touches on so many important issues, especially when done in Padfield's often subtle, teasing manner. To the attentive reader, there is much material here which is both intriguing and, sometimes, frustrating. Given the speculative nature of several lines of argument, Padfield's writings cannot always be accepted at face value, and never uncritically. On some points, he would seem demonstrably in error; for example, his analysis of the evolution of German Jewish policy in 1940 and 1941 betrays an apparent unfamiliarity with recent scholarship on this topic. Nevertheless, he has produced an immensely valuable contribution to the study of World War II in general and the Hess case in particular.
In addition to this book, the reader interested in the Rudolf Hess case will perhaps also wish to have a look at three other recent studies, which Padfield discusses and makes profitable use of. None of them is without its own flaws, but all contribute at least some sound facts and arguments which the systematic reader can piece together into a plausible whole. They are:
Costello, John: Ten Days to Destiny
Picknett, Lynn, et al: Double Standards: The Rudolf Hess Cover-Up
Smith, Alfred: Rudolf Hess and Germany's Reluctant War
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Just more misinformation mixed with accurate accounts.Read more