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Propaganda and the Flight of Rudolf Hess, 1941-45

Fox, J.C.

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J.C. Fox


Like his younger brother Ian, Peter Fleming imagined the fantastic. The theme of his 1940 novel, The Flying Visit, was barely believable: Hitler, wanting to emphasize his status as the “Eagle Führer,” embarks upon a flight over England in order to survey what he sought to conquer. An assassination attempt blows his plane from the sky, but Hitler escapes in his parachute. As a highly recognizable figure now stranded in the English countryside, he contemplates his course of action: “If he could only get hold of Mr Chamberlain, or Sir Horace Wilson [Head of the Civil Service], … he would stand (he was sure) a fair chance of persuading them that he had come to England, risking everything, on a peace mission. The English would never take advantage of an unarmed enemy of the highest possible rank who with incredible temerity, and from the noblest motives, had faced untold dangers in order to put himself at their mercy. … And he, Hitler, would return to Germany not as a superman but as a god, a god who got results.”1 Contacting an English aristocrat, Lord Scunner, who reveled in the celebrity afforded to those with connections to Nazism in the prewar years and whom Hitler briefly met at a Nuremberg rally, the Führer decides to surrender himself to the authorities. After the initial euphoria of securing such an extraordinary prize, the Cabinet cannot find appropriate propaganda or diplomatic strategies for dealing with him and decides to “say nothing, do nothing. … Keep the little man on ice.”2 Eventually, in frustration at their inability to exploit the prize, they parachute the “Eagle Führer” back into Germany where they would know how to deal with him. Just a matter of months after Fleming published this book, on the evening of May 10, 1941, routine patrols over the North Sea reported the approach of a Messerschmidt 110 crossing the Scottish coast. The German airman bailed out just south of Glasgow and was found by a plowman, David McLean, taken to his cottage, and offered a cup of tea. He gave his name as Captain Alfred Horn.3 The village had probably never seen such excitement: the Home Guard mobilized, and they moved the prisoner to the Girl Guides' hut at Busby. At one point, around 200 military and civilian personnel inspected the find.4 At the local hospital, where he received treatment for a broken ankle, the visitor declared that he was Rudolf Hess and willingly showed photographs of himself in an attempt to confirm his identity.5 In a bizarre turn of events that paralleled Fleming's strange tale of 1940, the Deputy Führer had parachuted into Britain. The coincidence did not end there, however. As Fleming predicted, the authorities struggled in dealing with the potential propaganda coup, giving rise to prolonged speculation, rumor, and indeed diplomatic troubles until the end of the war.


Fox, J. (2011). Propaganda and the Flight of Rudolf Hess, 1941-45. The Journal of Modern History, 83(1), 78-110.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Mar 1, 2011
Deposit Date May 9, 2011
Publicly Available Date Mar 15, 2013
Journal Journal of modern history.
Print ISSN 0022-2801
Electronic ISSN 1537-5358
Publisher The University of Chicago Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 83
Issue 1
Pages 78-110


Published Journal Article (2.8 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2011 by The University of Chicago.

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