Black Boomerang - Chapter Eight cont- Sefton Delmer

But on this day of May the 16th, 1941 we had to confess defeat. Ultimately the item was printed in English in a London newspaper-Hess's English being quite up to reading English newspapers. Several hundred copies had to be rolled off the rotary press in a top-secret special edition in order to get the one copy wanted for Hess. The rest were destroyed-instantly!

In due course the newspaper was served up to Hess with his breakfast. The effect? Not what we had hoped. All that happened was that Hess accepted the bit about the British having drugs which made their victims subject to suggestion. From now on he refused to eat or drink anything unless he had seen someone else taste it first.

My first `black' operation had backfired viciously. In my view, to break Hess down, an indispensable preliminary would have been to flatter him by going through the motions of negotiating with him-preferably through a top level `plenipotentiary'.

Churchill did indeed make one effort to play Hess along in this way. He sent a genuine cabinet minister to see him in the rambling Victorian country house near Aldershot called Mytchett Place, to which Hess had been moved in the meantime. Alas, the colleague whom he dispatched on this mission -on June the toth, 1941, exactly a month after Hess had taken off from Augsburg-was that frigid, inhibited lawyer, Lord Simon. I cannot conceive a worse choice.

For brilliant as Lord Simon undoubtedly was in the cross-examination of witnesses, this was not the talent called for in dealing with Rudolf Hess at this stage. What was needed was a man of warmth, authority, and charm, who could prepare him for the Intelligence men.

The ludicrous fiasco that resulted from Simon's meeting with Hess could have been foreseen. Lord Simon (he spoke English, while Hess, interpreted by a Dr. Maass, spoke German) began promisingly enough by informing Hess that he was "able to receive his mission with Government authority". Hess, pleased and flattered, launched eagerly into a long and well argued account of the motives that had brought him to Britain. No trace in his intelligent and lucid expose of the `amnesia' or `schizophrenia' and `paranoia' which later protected him from all further interrogation.

He had flown to Britain, Hess declared, in order to cut with one brave blow the tangle of inter-governmental red tape and prestige consciousness which was keeping two Nordic brother peoples at war with each other. He wanted to make known to Britain the essential moderation of Hitler's peace terms for Britain, as he had learned them in the course of many conversations with the Fuhrer.

Lord Simon listened with admirable courtesy and patience, called Hess `Herr Reichsminister', was beautifully suave but also-alas-ruthlessly and unnecessarily disillusioning. Item by item, he led Hess through the implications of his proposal that Europe should be a German sphere of interest in which Britain would have no say.

With every question from the Lord Chancellor Hess became more and more tied up, more and more hostile and defiant. He was reduced to making threats. If we did not accept the terms he offered now, he menaced, the terms we would be compelled to accept, when we were defeated and brought to our knees, as we undoubtedly would be, would be much worse. Infinitely worse.

As Hess blustered, Lord Simon completely forgot his intelligence mission and fell more and more into the role of the heroic British Statesman refusing to capitulate before a tyrannical enemy. " I don't think your argument will be very good for the British cabinet," he said with smug understatement and an hauteur which would have been magnificent, had he been faced with a victorious Hitler in Berlin, instead of the defenceless prisoner Rudolf Hess in well-guarded Mytchett Place.

" You know," added Simon in his high prissy voice, "there is a good deal of courage in this country and we are not very fond of threats."*

All this, of course, could have been grand stuff had the whole conversation been recorded on disks-(tapes did not exist here in those days)-to be broadcast to Europe and to Hitler by the B.B.C. But no one had thought of this. And even had it been suggested, I have no doubt the proposal would have been ruled out. As it was, the only effect of Simon's visit was that, when he and Kirkpatrick had left, Hess collapsed in despair. His plans, his hopes of glory, all had crashed about him. He determined to kill himself. And, indeed five days later, on June the 15th, 1941, dressed once more in his pale blue uniform of a LuftwafFe captain, he plunged dramatically over the banisters from the landing outside his rooms into the basement three floors below.

Poor Hess. He made a mess of this too. Instead of leaping head first, he went feet first. So he did not kill himself, but merely smashed his pelvis and broke a leg.

But for the interrogators this was the finish. There was one minister in Churchill's cabinet who could have cast a spell over Hess. That minister was Lord Beaverbrook. Had Lord Beaverbrook been given the job of softening up Hess, he would in two or at most three interviews have laid all the psychological foundation the Intelligence men needed. Regrettably, Lord Beaverbrook-who at that time was Minister of Supply-did not see Hess until September the 9th, 1941. And then the two of them talked only for one hour.

But even this short talk put Hess into a mood which clever interrogators could have exploited.

Beaverbrook had several advantages over Hess's other interlocutors-including Ivone Kirkpatrick. The greatest of them was that he was one of the men Hess had hoped to see and talk with when he flew off from Augsburg. For Hess had read many German diplomatic reports which described Beaverbrook as opposed to the war, which indeed he had been.

In neutral Switzerland, the Aga Khan had told Ribbentrop's amateur agent, Prince Max Hohenlohe, that Lord Beaverbrook was all for peace and compromise with Hitler. "Beaverbrook," so the Prince in a letter to the German Foreign Office on July the 25th, igq.o quoted the Aga Khan as saying, "is the only man who has the courage, the power and the standing to bring about a change in England even against Churchill, since Churchill has for a long time been in Beaverbrook's pay."*

Another advantage Beaverbrook possessed was that Hess had met him a number of times before the war and had no difficulty in remembering his talks with him. For Beaverbrook had paid several visits to Berlin between 1935 and 1939 and on each occasion he had talked at length with Hitler and Hess. They were talks in which Hitler, sometimes in the presence of Hess, had gone out of his way to impress his British visitor with his essential reasonableness and good sense. Not without some success, as was shown by Beaverbrook's refusal to believe in 1939 that Hitler could be so foolish as to forego the immense gains that avoidance of war would certainly have brought him.

Hess and Beaverbrook had already been exchanging letters concerning the German invasion of Soviet Russia, when on September the 5th Hess was informed that Lord Beaverbrook would be coming to call on him at Mytchett Place four days later.

I do not know whether what followed did so because Hess was still suffering from his sharp rebuttal at the hands of Lord Simon. The fact, however, is that the prospect of meeting the man whom he had regarded as his most influential ally in Britain, now filled Hess with nervousness and apprehension.

" He became moody and irritable and particularly sensitive to noises," reports Captain Johnston, the army doctor who had been put in charge of Hess at Mytchett Place.* Hess began to complain of pains in his stomach, he gripped the beam supporting his broken leg, pulled himself up off the bed and demanded morphine. Finally, he sent for the Foreign Office representative and said he was too ill to see Lord Beaverbrook.Lord Beaverbrook did not let himself be put off by this.

Dressed, as ever, in his sober blue serge suit he walked into Hess's sick room, flung his soft black hat on a table and advanced towards Hess with the outstretched hand and wide cheery smile of an old friend. It was the very opposite to the frozen formality of Lord Simon.

" How's it getting on?" he inquired, pointing at Hess's leg suspended from the Balkan Beam over his bed.In no time, they were talking, not as wary negotiators, but as the cabinet ministers of two governments with conflicting views, each of whom was anxious to hear the other's opinion. Soviet Russia was the subject of their talk, as it had been of their letters.

Hess now stated that the object of his flight to Scotland had been to make peace with Britain "on any terms", providing that Britain would then join Germany in attacking Russia. It was an odd statement for him to make in view of the fact that he had not mentioned the coming attack on Russia with so much as a word when he had his talk with Lord Simon. And to Kirkpatrick he had denied point blank that Hitler meant to attack Russia. Nor had the terms he put down in writing at the time of his talk with Lord Simon suggested Germany's readiness for peace with Britain "at any price".

But Lord Beaverbrook, unlike Lord Simon, did not hold him up with argument or quibbling. He wanted to hear what Hess had to say. And he heard plenty. Hess's main theme was that the British were wrong if they hoped that the conflict with the Soviet Union would so weaken both Russia and Germany that at the end of it Britain's 19th-century hegemony over Europe would be restored.

" A victory for England as the ally of the Russians," said Hess, "will be a victory for the Bolsheviks. And a Bolshevik victory will sooner or later mean Russian occupation of Germany and the rest of' Europe. England will be just as incapable of preventing this as any other nation will be. I am convinced," he summed up, "that world domination awaits the Soviet Union in the future, if her power is not broken now."

That prophecy, of course, was part of the propaganda theme which the Germans had begun to broadcast to the world as soon as Hitler's troops began their march into Russia-the theme of Germany's God given mission to defend the civilised world against the Bolshevik East. I am sure that Beaverbrook was no more impressed by the argument when it came from Hess in 1941, than he has been more recently when it was used by Chancellor Adenauer to justify German rearmament. But he did not crush Hess with a haughty "it's no use talking that way to us". He listened to him with every show of sympathy and encouraged him to believe he had a potential convert before him. When the meeting was over Hess was a changed man. Grinning cheerfully, he told Captain Johnston that he had enjoyed the conversation, and felt very much better now.

I say that if Beaverbrook had given Hess just one more dose of this treatment, he would have had him in a state where this valuable prisoner would have been ready to talk. Particularly so when the news of the German failure before Moscow began to penetrate his thinking. But there was no second dose. The Intelligence men made no special effort to exploit the euphoria induced in Hess by his hour with the Minister of Supply. He was allowed to shut himself off once more in the pose of apathy which was ultimately to degenerate into a permanent mental derangement. A great opportunity in the war of wits had been bungled.

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MB 1986