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A Daring Venture

Rudolf Hess and the Ill-Fated Peace Mission of 1941

Peter Raina

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.
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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,...

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