Tuesday, 13 May 1941

The Times, 13 May 1941, 5

Today's big story must have caused quite a bit of consternation to readers: it's scarcely possible to credit it. Here is the full text of the statement issued by 10, Downing Street last night (as reproduced in The Times, 5):

Rudolf Hess, the deputy Führer of Germany, and party leader of the National-Socialist Party, has landed in Scotland in the following circumstances.

On the night of Saturday, the 10th inst., 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 an Me110 would not have the fuel to return to Germany this report was at first disbelieved.

However, later on an Me110 crashed near Glasgow, with its guns unloaded. Shortly afterwards a German officer who had baled out was found with his parachute in the neighbourhood, suffering from a broken ankle

He was taken to a hospital in Glasgow, where he at first gave his name as Horn, but later on declared that 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 knew him personally. 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.

A later report from the Ministry of Information said that the man's identity 'has now been established beyond all possible doubt' as Hess.

What does this mean? Neither The Times nor the Manchester Guardian offer any speculation (quite possibly because the news came too late at night for anyone to process it fully). For its part, the party which Hess served reported that 'he was suffering from an illness of some years' standing':

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.

But then they would say that, wouldn't they?

London is still recovering from Saturday night's raid. Some of the incendiaries landed 350 feet above ground level in scaffolding which surrounded the Victoria Tower. To put them out, Sergeant Forbes of the Palace Police climbed up the scaffolding with a sandbag, 'a strenuous feat in daylight and a magnificent achievement in the dark and danger of the night' (Guardian, 5). Elsewhere the damage was grievous, reports The Times:

The chamber in which the Commons have held their debates since 1852, when Barry completed that part of his new Palace of Westminster, was completely destroyed in Saturday night's raid. Not since the fire of 1834, which completely destroyed the old Palace, has there been such a scene of ruin on this historic site.

On the other hand, the ancient roof of Westminster Hall is in better shape than had at first been feared. The same is true of the Abbey next door which has sustained little irreparable damage, though the sight revealed yesterday by 'Sunshine streaming in' through the hole in the roof was 'melancholy to look at' (The Times, 2).

The Guardian is quite sure (5) that Parliament was deliberately targeted:

The destruction of part of the Palace of Westminster on Saturday night was not the result of indiscriminate bombing but of a deliberate attack, continued for two hours, during which six high-explosives, an oil bomb, and countless fire bombs were dropped.

So too is The Times, adding that 'There has never been a raid which has done less military damage' (5):

let the world note also what manner of men these enemies are who, on a night of brilliant moonlight, when there could be no question of mistaking targets, deliberately sought to destroy things which by any criterion must rank among the architectural treasures of the world.

The German press's take is somewhat different (3). The Völkischer Beobachter says that

Naturally the British again assert that our mass attack [on Saturday night] was indiscriminate, but the High Command reports objectively that the region round the bend of the Thames -- that is, the centre of London's docks and business quarters, was again the focus of the attacks.

It sounds like it is talking about the Isle of Dogs, but that's not particularly close to Westminster and neither The Times nor the Guardian have mentioned it. Is the British press being censored or is the German press lying?

There were more raids on Britain on Sunday night. The Guardian says (5) that

the raids were widespread, and although the damage was caused at a number of points it was nowhere heavy.

Bombs were dropped in several parts of the North-east, and raids were also reported from South Wales and the South and East coasts.

According to German reports, these night raids included attacks on

numerous aerodromes in the South of England and the Midlands, with good results. Large fires were caused in hangars, barracks, technical buildings, and fuel dumps. On several aerodromes direct hits were scored on stationary bombers.

London admits that 'a large number of R.A.F. aerodromes were attacked' but that German claims of damage were 'as usual, grossly exaggerated'. For it's part, that night Bomber Command raided Bremen and, again, Hamburg, 'to continue the destruction and disorganisation of the vital parts of this great seaport'. Again, the German News Agency has a different story, saying that 'in Hamburg six people, including three children, were killed and injured. A church situated next door to a hospital was burnt out'.

The Guardian today prints (3) a review by W. H. C. of Lord Davies, Foundations of Victory (Collins, 2/6). The most interesting paragraph for me is the following:

For Lord Davies air-power is decisive, and he regards large-scale Army operations as a means of victory as impracticable. He does not fail to reproduce the vision splendid of an international air force maintaining the sway of law and order and decency as seen by our present Prime Minister in Volume V of "The World Crisis." No longer, however, does the author contemplate after the war a "Federal Europe," but rather a number of British-American commissions -- justices of the peace, so to speak -- in the various capitals of Europe, whose task it will be to rebuild the shattered civilisation of the Continent.

I'll be keeping an eye out for this one!

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