Black Boomerang - Chapter Eight - Sefton Delmer

WHAT BAFFLED me about the whole Hess episode was the astonishing reluctance of our authorities to handle his case with the realism and practicality the British normally show when faced with an opportunity of this kind. We behaved as though Hess was some dangerous Trojan Horse planted in our midst, a booby trap which might explode in our faces at any moment. Not only were the political warfare agencies prevented from exploiting Hess as they could have done and as Hitler feared we would, but even the Intelligence people failed to apply to the interrogation of 'Captain Horn', as he first called himself, the ingenuity which they applied so successfully to other prisoners.

Let no one say that there was nothing we could have got out of Hess. Even though his deputy Bormann had latterly been taking over much of his work, Hess was still a member of the special Defence Council, a trusted confidant of the Fuhrer, and the repository of much valuable political economic and strategic information. We could have made great use of what he knew for psychological warfare operations, even if it had been of no immediate military usefulness.

The deception experts too could have used him in confusing the German High Command and Germany's allies. But from the very beginning the handling of Hess was amateurish. As was made clear to me very soon. For within less than three hours of Hess's landing becoming known in Whitehall I myself became involved in this deplorable masquerade.

On Sunday May the 12th, 1940 the Corporal and I were in our red brick villa rehearsing for `The Chief's' debut, when Valentine Williams telephoned me the astounding news and asked me to come over right away and see him in his office at the Abbey.

" Cadogan,"* he said, "wants someone who knows Hess personally to go up to Scotland to identify and question him. We must be ready to start at once." " Who's we?" I asked.

" Oh, I am going with you!" said Valentine. "Hurry! Rush!" But when I got to the Abbey, Valentine told me the mission was off. The Foreign Office had got hold of Ivone Kirkpatrick and he was going instead. I was both disappointed and relieved. Relieved because I had not thought it very bright of Whitehall to send me whom Hess knew, not as an official, but as a journalist.

A journalist, what was more, whom he would remember as the voice that had turned down Hitler's peace offer of the year before. I feared that even Kirkpatrick was not the ideal emissary. For, though as first secretary at the British Embassy from 1933 to 1938 he had occasionally met Hess at diplomatic functions and Hess might conceivably remember him, he was not nearly exalted enough in rank to satisfy Rudolf Hess's parvenu hunger for an interlocutor of high influence and social position. I was convinced already then that it would be necessary to flatter Hess, if we wanted to get anything out of him.

But this abortive mission to Scotland was not to be the end of my involvement with the handling of Hess. Two days after the trip to Scotland was cancelled, Valentine once more called me over to his office in the Abbey, and put forward the suggestion that we should produce a bit of home news for Hess, which would make him feel so bitter against Adolf that he would let his hair down at last. I demurred a bit.

" Odd sort of chap, Hess," I said. "It might take quite a bit to shock him. I cannot really see him talking to us just because his friend Adolf is being beastly to him. Flattery is the way to the heart of the Nazis I've always found. Make him think we take him terrifically seriously. But best of all would be to give him a shot or two of a truth drug."

" Can't use drugs," said Valentine, who had been a Guards officer in the first war. "That's not done. Not in this country!" and he glared at me, a friendly little glare, as much as to say'none of your continental ruthlessness here, my lad!' "No," he continued, "I have an idea that might do the trick." And he proceeded to outline it to me.

Valentine's war-winner was that we should print a counterfeit page of Hitler's official newspaper, the Volkischer Beobachter. It would be an exact replica of a genuine page taken from the most recent V.B. to come into our possession since Hess's arrival. Except for one item. This item-to be written by me in the best V.B. style-was to contain news that would upset Hess, and bring him over to us. The counterfeit page would then be inserted in the otherwise genuine V.B. and would be presented to Hess with his breakfast at the first opportunity. " I suggest," said Valentine, "that you work out something on the lines that Frau Ilse Hess and her son have been shut up in a Concentration Camp."

I saw difficulties ahead of us. Did we have the right newsprint for the job, and the right type, and the right rotary press? However, who was I to worry about that? I had said my say. So I sat down, and there and then worked out two drafts for Valentine. Neither, I regret, was a masterpiece. But I like to think they were at least written in true German police reporter journalese.

" The Chief State Attorney announces," said the first, "that Frau Ilse Hess, after prolonged and thorough interrogation by himself and Kommissar Dr. Braschwitz of the Political Police has made a complete confession. Frau Hess confirms that she smuggled nerve drugs, believed to be of British origin, into her husband's food. These drugs made Party Comrade Hess subjective to the hypnotic influence of British-inspired German traitors and produced the mental fog in which he flew to England. (For the Volkischer Beobachter Scotland was part of England.) Frau Hess has been transferred to Munich for confrontation with the adjutants of Party Comrade Hess and other members of this sinister ring who are now in secure custody."

For good measure, I added a second item which I suggested might be inserted in the counterfeit of a local Munich newspaper, if we had one available for copying. The local paper's news item, tucked away in an insignificant corner, would report the arrest of two women and a man who had caused a street disturbance on the evening of Sunday, May the 12th, by trying to interfere with the police, as they were arresting a woman and her small boy at a villa in Harlaching. Harlaching was the suburb of Munich where Hess resided with his wife and son. Valentine was delighted. Alas, as I feared, when it came to printing the items, we suddenly discovered that the resources of the department were not equal to the job. Nor was the S.O.i file of German personalities able to give me the name of a police official for the Munich district who would have been more suitable for the job of interviewing Frau Hess than my old Berlin antagonist, Dr. Braschwitz. I made a mental note of these deficiencies and determined to remedy them for the future at least as far as our `black' work was concerned. For a register of personalities high and low and a fount of all the current German types as well as a supply of German-made paper were going to be essentials if we were to have any success in deceiving the Germans into accepting our products. And before many months had passed I had succeeded in laying the foundations for all these things.

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