It was one of the most perplexing episodes of the Second World War which, more than 70 years on, remains shrouded in mystery.
But a new book claims to have solved the riddle of the flight to Britain in 1941 of Rudolf Hess, Adolf Hitler’s deputy.
Hess’s journey to Britain by fighter aircraft to Scotland has traditionally been dismissed as the deranged solo mission of a madman.
But Peter Padfield, an historian, has uncovered evidence he says shows that, Hess, the deputy Fuhrer, brought with him from Hitler, a detailed peace treaty, under which the Nazis would withdraw from western Europe, in exchange for British neutrality over the imminent attack on Russia.
The existence of such a document was revealed to him by an informant who claims that he and other German speakers were called in by MI6 to translate the treaty for Churchill.
The figure, who is not named by Mr Padfield, was an academic who later worked at a leading university. He has since died. Before his death, he passed on an account of how the group were assembled at the BBC headquarters, in Portland Place, London, to carry out the task.
The academic said Hess had brought with him the proposed peace treaty, expressed in numbered clauses and typed on paper from the German Chancellery. An English translation was also included, but the British also wanted the original German translated.
The informant said the first two pages of the treaty detailed Hitler’s precise aims in Russia, followed by sections detailing how Britain could keep its independence, Empire and armed services, and how the Nazis would withdraw from western Europe. The treaty proposed a state of “wohlwollende Neutralitat” – rendered as “well wishing neutrality”, between Britain and Germany, for the latter’s offensive against the USSR. The informant even said the date of the Hitler’s coming attack on the east was disclosed.
Mr Padfield, who makes the claims in a new book, Hess, Hitler and Churchill, said: “This was not a renegade plot. Hitler had sent Hess and he brought over a fully developed peace treaty for Germany to evacuate all the occupied countries in the West.”
Mr Padfield, who has previously written a biography of Hess as well as ones of Karl Dönitz and Heinrich Himmler, believes the treaty was suppressed at the time, because it would have scuppered Churchill’s efforts to get the USA into the war, destroyed his coalition of exiled European governments, and weakened his position domestically, as it would have been seized on by what the author believes was a sizeable “negotiated peace” faction in Britain at that time. At the same time, since the mission had failed, it also suited Hitler to dismiss Hess as a rogue agent.
There is no mention of the treaty in any of the official archives which have since been made public, but Mr Padfield believes this is because there has been an ongoing cover-up to protect the reputations of powerful figures. The author says that his informant broke off contact with him after approaching his former masters in the security services.
Mr Padfield added: “If the Royal Family was seriously involved in compromise peace plans, that would be very damaging, though I think it more likely that Hess brought news to Churchill of the coming Holocaust. It could damage perceptions of his and Britain’s wartime record if that were released.
“This was a turning point of the war. Churchill could have accepted the offer, but he made a very moral choice. He was determined that Hitler, who could not be trusted, would not get away with it. He wanted the US in the war, and to defeat Hitler.”
Mr Padfield has also assembled other evidence to support the existence of the treaty and its contents – as well as the subsequent cover-up.
He has established that two inventories were taken of items carried by Hess when he was arrested after parachuting out of his aircraft, a Messerschmitt 110, on the evening of May 10 1941, near Eaglesham, outside of Glasgow. Neither has ever been released.
He has found witness statements from a woman living near where Hess had landed, which indicate that police were “ordered to search for a valuable document which was missing”. The item, according to the witness, was found “over near the wee burn in the park”.
Mr Padfield also points out that Hess had used a specialist translator from the German Foreign Ministry – even though he had the use of another, fluent English speaker – when drawing up documents for his negotiations with the British, before his flight. This suggests, Mr Padfield claims, that approved wording was required for the documents.
Hess was kept captive in Britain until the end of the war when he was returned to Germany to stand trial at Nuremberg. He was sent to Spandau Prison where he died in 1987. The authorities said he had committed suicide, although his son and some historians have claimed the British state had him murdered to protect secrets.