A Daring Venture

Rudolf Hess and the Ill-Fated Peace Mission of 1941

by Peter Raina (Author)
©2014 Monographs XIV, 280 Pages


At the height of the Second World War, Hitler’s Deputy, Rudolf Hess, made a dramatic solo flight to the British Isles. His arrival there was sensational news – and it baffled everyone. Why had he come?
Hess claimed he had flown to Britain entirely of his own initiative and was on a personal mission of peace. But so unlikely was the success of such an appeal in Churchill’s entrenched Britain that historians continue to wonder at his motives.
In this book, Peter Raina publishes, for the first time, complete texts of Hess’s ‘peace proposals’ and a treatise he wrote in captivity outlining how he saw Nazi Germany’s role in Europe. These texts throw considerable light on Hess’s mission and also on how the Nazi leadership saw their programme of expansion and their relations with Britain.
Disconcertingly single-minded and an unashamed disciple of Hitler, Hess was at heart an idealist. His friend and confidant Albrecht Haushofer was an idealist of a different kind, and joined the German Resistance Movement. The frame story of this book relates how the two men moved to their tragic ends.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of Illustrations
  • Chapter 1: A Magnificent Sight
  • Chapter 2: Why Did Hess Want to Speak to the Duke of Hamilton?
  • Chapter 3: The Duke Meets the Reichsminister
  • Chapter 4: The Führer’s Rage
  • Chapter 5: Ivone Kirkpatrick Meets Rudolf Hess: First Interview – Terms of Proposals for Peace
  • Chapter 6: Kirkpatrick Meets Hess: Second Interview – Further Peace Proposals
  • Chapter 7: Kirkpatrick Meets Hess: Third Interview – Additional Conditions
  • Chapter 8: The Frustrations of the Deputy Führer
  • Chapter 9: The Hess Case Raised in the House of Commons
  • Chapter 10: Peace Proposal: Anglo-German Accord, 9 June 1941
  • Chapter 11: Peace Proposal: Alliance Against Bolshevism, 6 September 1941
  • Epilogue
  • Appendices. Facsimile documents (FO 1093/15, 11–12)
  • 1. Letter from Rudolf Hess to Adolf Hitler, 14 June 1941
  • 2. Statement by Rudolf Hess on the Roosevelt–Churchill joint declaration of 12 August 1941
  • 3. Letter from Rudolf Hess to the Duke of Hamilton, 19 May 1941
  • 4. Peace Proposals by Rudolf Hess delivered personally to Lord Beaverbrook, 9 September 1941
  • Sources
  • Other sources
  • Secondary sources
  • Index

← VI | VII → Preface

On 26 April 2014 it will be 120 years since the birth of Rudolf Hess, who rose to become Hitler’s Deputy in National Socialist Germany, and whose daring solo flight to Scotland in 1941 was one of the most sensational and puzzling events of the Second World War. Hess said that he came to Britain on a peace mission. The British were in no mood for peace and the whole idea proved ill-fated. But perhaps this anniversary is a fit occasion to reflect on what Hess really intended.

The year 1941 was the high point of the war. In May, after much agonizing, Hess persuaded himself to fly to Scotland to put a suggestion of peace to the British: he wanted, he said, to save Britain from the horrors of full-scale bombing and sea blockade. Hess was not carrying any official document proposing peace; he simply brought himself and his ideas. But these ideas were, he claimed, implanted in his mind by his Führer, Adolf Hitler.1 Often, he said, the Führer had told him how he desired to live in peace with Britain. Although the Führer had never specifically asked Hess to initiate or arrange a rapprochement between Germany and Britain, Hess felt that, on his own, he should try to harmonize Anglo-German relations. He could, he said, tell what Hitler’s designs were.

What made this man, the Deputy to the Führer, think as he did? When asked this question, Hess consistently replied that he had seen enough bloodshed in both countries and he now meant to stop further destruction of the peoples of Germany and Britain. These two ‘white races’ (as he called them) should not destroy each other; and an end to the warfare between them could be arranged if ‘England’ (his term) promised to meet certain conditions advanced by the Führer.

← VII | VIII → What were these conditions? Hess put forward certain proposals. They were not really terms of peace to be considered by the British, but were an ultimatum they should unilaterally accept. Hess believed firmly that Hitler would eventually win the war, but before the final victory came, Hitler would condescend to sign a peace treaty with Britain on condition that that country should fully and permanently recognize the Continent of Europe (including European Russia) as Germany’s ‘sphere of influence’. Britain was never in future to interfere in Continental affairs, which would remain entirely the domain of Germany. In return Germany would be prepared to guarantee her non-interference in the British Empire. If the British were to refuse these conditions, Hess contended, they faced total destruction by Hitler.

Now any sensible politician should have realized that such conditions would be unacceptable to any British Government. Hess, however, was not a politically astute man: he was naive. This naivety may be why he clung to his mistaken belief that he might be able to persuade a counterpart in Britain to share his scheme for peace. Here again, this was a great error in judgement. Yet misunderstanding of a situation does not necessarily imply that an idea about it is devoid of sincerity. Hess pinned his faith upon the rightness of his proposals, and he seemed to have an implicit faith that the British should accept them. Now you may challenge his faith, but it is difficult to deny his belief. Hugh Trevor-Roper once called Hess the ‘incorrigible intruder’ and described his arrival in Scotland as ‘the most bizarre single episode of the Second World War’. Both descriptions are justified. Yet Hess’s eccentricity seems to us free from pretence. It is this aspect of the ‘bizarre episode’ we propose to look at in our volume.

Hess’s reason for flying to Britain has been the subject of various scholarly works.2 Why then our present volume? We thought it essential to ← VIII | IX → produce complete texts of Hess’s ‘peace’ proposals, and show how Hess wanted to present them. This has not been done before. We have also appended to our text copies of the original handwritten documents Hess made in captivity (including his letters to Hitler and his peace terms). These are here made available to the public for the first time. We hope thereby to put the views of this enigmatic figure in a proper historical perspective.

Peter Raina

Senior Research Associate

Graduate Centre, Balliol College, Oxford

Michaelmas Term, Oxford 2013 ← IX | X →

1 Adolf Hitler (by title, ‘Der Führer’), 1889–1945; German Chancellor, 1933–45; committed suicide on 30 April 1945.

2 See under ‘Sources’ at the end of this volume and works referred to in full in the footnotes. We must nevertheless refer to some of the more important studies, which have appeared after the British Public Records were released. Among these are David Irving’s Hess. The Missing Years, 1941–1945 (London: Macmillan, 1987). Irving is, of course, a controversial and now discredited figure; but, in his research on Hess, he used the sources made available by the Public Record Office, London and other archives with skill, giving a full picture of the fate of his subject. All these sources are open for verification. Another study worth singling out for its thoroughness is Peter Padfield, Hess: The Führer’s Disciple (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1991; Macmillan, 1995). A work of unusual importance is James Douglas-Hamilton, The Truth About Rudolf Hess (Edinburgh and London: Mainstream, 1993). Douglas-Hamilton’s other major work, Motive for a Mission: The Story Behind Rudolf Hess’s Flight to Britain (Edinburgh: Mainstream, 1979) is also important: it contains a chapter, written with immense sympathy, on Hess’s friend, Albrecht Haushofer, who was murdered by the Gestapo only days before the end of the war. Perhaps the best study ever written on Hess is that by Rainer F. Schmidt, Rudolf Hess: ‘Botengang eines Toren’. Der Flug nach Grossbritannien vom 10 Mai 1941 (Düsseldorf: Econ, 1997). Professor Schmidt has thoroughly analysed all the available source material and come to conclusions that are highly convincing. His book is a classic. Our knowledge of why and how Hess flew to Scotland has been greatly enlarged by David Stafford (ed.), Flight from Reality: Rudolf Hess and his Mission to Scotland, 1941 (London: Pimlico, 2002). This includes several interesting articles: Lothar Kettenacker, ‘Mishandling a Spectacular Event: The Rudolf Hess Affair’; John Erickson, ‘Rudolf Hess: A Post-Soviet Postscript’; Warren F. Kimball, ‘The Hess Distraction: A Footnote from America’; James Douglas-Hamilton, ‘Hess and the Haushofers’; Roy Conyers Nesbit, ‘Hess and Public Records’; and Hugh Trevor-Roper, ‘Rudolf Hess: The Incorrigible Intruder’. The titles of the next two books are self-explanatory: Martin Allen: The Hitler/Hess Deception: British Intelligence’s Best-kept Secret of the Second World War (London: Harper Collins, 2003) offers an extensive exposition of how Hess was duped by British Intelligence to come to Britain. Roy Conyers Nesbit and Georges van Acker, The Flight of Rudolf Hess: Myths and Reality (Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing, 2007) gives us a detailed technical description of the flight.

← X | XI → Acknowledgements

I gratefully record my obligations to:

Professor Rainer F. Schmidt, Professor of Modern History, University of Würzburg, Germany.

The National Archives, London.

The National Portrait Gallery, London.

The German Federal Archives, Koblenz.

The Imperial War Museum, London.

Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford: Western Manuscripts, MSS Simon 88, with thanks to Charles Simon for kind permission to use the papers of Viscount Simon.

Mr Hubert Albrecht Haushofer.

Mr Jon Ashby, my copy-editor.

Mrs Lucy Melville, my publisher. ← XI | XII →

← XII | XIII → List of Illustrations

Albrecht Haushofer by an unknown artist
Reproduced by permission of Hubert Albrecht Haushofer


XIV, 280
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (March)
Britain captivity Albrecht Haushofer Nazi leadership
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2014. XIV, 280 pp., num. b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Peter Raina (Author)

Peter Raina has been a Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research, School of Advanced Study, University of London, and an Associate Member of Nuffield College, Oxford. He is presently Senior Research Associate at the Graduate Centre of Balliol College, Oxford.


Title: A Daring Venture
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