Rudolf Hess crash lands in farmer’s field in Scotland

One of the most peculiar happenings during the Second World War occurred this week 80 years ago when Rudolf Hess, the Nazi Party’s third in line, crashed landed in fields in Scotland.

May 1941:  The debris of the Messerschmitt ME-110 from which Rudolf Hess bailed out over Eaglesham on his historic lone flight to Scotland to plead for an Anglo-German peace on the eve of Germany’s attack on Russia.  (Photo by Express/Express/Getty Images)
May 1941: The debris of the Messerschmitt ME-110 from which Rudolf Hess bailed out over Eaglesham on his historic lone flight to Scotland to plead for an Anglo-German peace on the eve of Germany’s attack on Russia. (Photo by Express/Express/Getty Images)

The following statement was issued from 10 Downing Street: “Rudolf Hess Deputy Fuehrer of Germany and party leader of the Nationalist Socialist Party has landed in Scotland under the following circumstances.

“On the night of Saturday, the 10th, a Messerschmitt 110 was reported by our patrols to have crossed the coast of Scotland and to be flying in the direction of Glasgow.

“Since the Messerschmitt 110 would not have the fuel to return to Germany this report was first disbelieved. Later on a ME 110 crashed near Glasgow with its guns unloaded.

Staff and members of the Palace of Westminster Company (C Company 35th London (Civil Service) Battalion) Home Guard carry out fire watch duty to guard against incendiary bombs on the roof of the House of Lords in November 1942 at London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Bill Brandt/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

“Shortly afterwards a German office who had baled out was found with his parachute in the neighbourhood suffering from a broken ankle. He was taken to hospital in Glasgow, where he at first gave his name as Horn, but later in declared he was Rudolf Hess.

“He brought with him various photographs of himself at different ages, apparently in order to establish his identity. These photographs were deemed to be photographs of Hess by several people who he knew personally.”

The statement from Downing Street concluded: “Accordingly, an officer of the Foreign Office who was closely acquainted with Hess before the war has been sent up by aeroplane to see him in hospital.”


Circa 1933: German Dictator, Adolf Hitler addressing a rally in Germany. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Meanwhile on the night of May 12, 1941, the German radio claimed that Hess had committed suicide by throwing himself from an aeroplane.

The official German statement declared: “It is officially announced by the Nationalist Socialist Party that party member Rudolf Hess, who, as he was suffering from an illness of some years standing, had been strictly forbidden to embark on any further flying activity, was able, contrary to this command, came into possession of an aeroplane.

“On Saturday, May 10, at about 4am, Rudolf Hess set off on a flight from Augsburg, from which he has not so far returned.

“A letter which he left behind unfortunately shows by its distractedness traces of a mental disorder, and it is feared that he was a victim of hallucinations.

British Prime Minister Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill (1874 - 1965) with Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882 - 1945) 32nd President of the United States, seated in a car on their way to the White House in Washington to discuss the Allied Victory in North Africa. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

“The Fuehrer at once ordered the arrest of the adjutants of party member Hess, who alone had cognisance of these flights and did not, contrary to the Fuehrer’s orders of which they were fully aware, either prevent or report the flights.”


A ploughman called David McLean was the man who found Hess. He found him lying injured in a field and assisted him to his house, where Hess gossiped with McLean’s mother and other relatives for almost an hour before he was taken away by officials.

He told his story to one of the Scottish newspapers. He said: “I was in the house and everyone else was in bed late at night when I heard the plane roaring overhead. As I ran on to the back of the farm I heard a crash and saw the plane burst into flames in a field about 200 yards away.

Nazi Party official Rudolf Hess (1894 - 1987, right) in a car with Italian leader Benito Mussolini, circa 1938. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

“I was amazed and bit frightened when I saw a parachute dropping slowly downwards through the gathering darkness. Peering upwards, I could see a man swinging from the harness. I immediately concluded it was German airman baling out, and raced back to the house for help.

“They were all asleep, however. I looked round hastily for some weapon, but could find nothing except a hayfork.

“Fearing I might lose the airman, I hurried round by myself again to the back of the house, and in the field there I saw the man lying on ground with the parachute nearby. He smiled and as I assisted him to his feet he thanked me, but I could see that he had injured his foot in some way.


“I helped him into the house. By this time my old mother and my sister had got out of bed and made tea. The stranger, however, declined any tea and smiled when we told him we were very fond of it in this country. He said: “I never drink tea as late as this – I will only have a glass of water.

“Word was sent to the military authorities, and in the meantime our visitor chatted freely to us and showed us pictures of his little boy, of whom he spoke very proudly.

From left to right, Hermann Goering, Rudolf Hess, and Joachim von Ribbentrop face justice at the Nuremberg Trials following World War II, circa 1946. (Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

“He told us he had left Germany about four hours previously and had landed because nightfall was approaching. And I could see from the way he spoke that he was a man of culture.”


Continuing his tale of finding the deputy fuehrer, Mr McLean recalled: “His English, although it had a foreign accent, was very clear and he understood every word we said to him. He was a striking-looking man, standing over six feet in height, and was wearing a very magnificent flying suit. His watch and identity bracelet were of gold.

“He did not discuss his journey and, indeed, he seemed to treat what seemed to us a most hazardous flight as a pleasure trip. He seemed quite confident that he would be well treated and repeatedly expressed how lucky he had been in landing without mishap. He was most gentlemanly in his attitude to my old mother and my sister, and stiffly bowed to them when he came in and before he left.”

Mr McLean concluded: “He would not tell us who he was and we did not like to press the question, as we assumed he was just another German airman who had been brought down. When the officials came on the scene he greeted them with a smile and assured them that he was unarmed and stood up and held his arms out to allow them to frisk him. He was then taken away.”


“As yet it is impossible to say with any assurance precisely what significance to attach to the dramatic arrival of Rudolf Hess, the Nazi leader, from Germany to Britain,” declared the News Letter editorial comment on Wednesday, May 14.

The editorial continued: “We know that, contrary to Berlin assertions, he is not insane, or even mentally affected, and the suggestion that he ‘laboured under the impression that by personal sacrifice he could prevent a development which, in his eyes, would only end in the complete destruction of the British Empire’ is too fatuous for serious consideration.

“The most plausible of several plausible theories seems to be that a rift in the Nazi lute set Hess thinking about his personal safety, and that he flew to Britain in the hope of saving his life.

“Surely the war has produced nothing more remarkable than the fact that one of our arch-enemies should regard these islands as one part of Europe in which to seek shelter. There are those, of course, who suspect a German trap but, pending further light on the mystery, it seems reasonable to accept the explanation offered by Otto Strasser, a former associate of the Nazi leaders, who is now in America – namely, that all is not well in Germany, and that in Hess’s flight we have an indication of the unrest that exits.”


Meanwhile a letter to the News Letter in the same edition reflected public suspicions of Hesse. It stated: “Hess lands in Britain, and people applaud! He may be running for his life; he may prove of value to the government; there may have been a split in the Nazi camp; but – can we afford at this critical juncture in our history to trust the word of the enemy? He is a German and, worse, a Nazi. If he has come here because of trouble within, why has he abandoned the son and wife he so much adores? In the past he has been guilty of mass murder. Is Britain to be fooled by such a band of thugs? There have been many quislings elsewhere. Suppose, for one instant, that Lord Halifax, Anthony Eden, or even Mr Churchill were to land in Germany, what would the result be?”


Later that week the News Letter reported the news that when Hess had landed in Scotland he was attempting to reach the estate of Dungavel, the seat of the Duke of Hamilton, whom he wished to meet. The place where Hess landed was 15 miles from Dungavel and he was, it was said, “obviously very anxious to meet the Duke”.

Hess had talked freely and given British authorities “highly useful information”. When he landed in Scotland he had said that he had information to give the Duke that would be “of the greatest use in overthrowing the tyranny in the Reich”.

It was also revealed that Hess had written to the Duke some months previously. The letter was handed to the authorities and no reply was sent. The Duke, once known as the “boxing marquess” was aged 38 and had always been a keen amateur sportsman who Hess had met at the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936. The Duke, noted the News Letter, was on active service.


Meanwhile in Berlin the story was of the “considerable number of notes” that Hess had left behind him before flying to Britain.

“From these,” it was stated, “it may be deduced 
that he thought himself in a position to reach a peaceful understanding between Germany and Britain if he could succeed in bring the truth to Britain.

“The motive of his action, which was in complete misunderstanding of the actual possibilities – and in the manner in which it was carried out can only be explained by the existence of mental derangement – appears in the first instance to have been prompted by reasons of humanity, for which he was very receptive by reason of his physical ailment.

“Rudolf Hess was naturally not initiated in the plans of the high military command of the Reich, which are known only to a very small circle, but he knew enough to be convinced that the prosecution of the war by the Germans and the British to the bitter end, irrespective of what support Britain might receive, would end not only in the defeat but in the destruction of Britain.

“He knew that Britain had made false statements only about the military but also about economic conditions in Germany.”

The German statement added: “From his notes it is indisputably established that in his opinion the continuation of the war by Britain was entirely due to public opinion being misled by Churchill and his gang, who, he wrote, are alone responsible for preventing peace being established, which must mean terrible consequences for the people living on the island.

“He believed, and he himself said, that it would be possible to convince Britain of the insane of her leaders if he could succeed in enlightening other British personalities of the true position.”