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The Strange Case of Hess and Hamilton

John Simkin

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One of history’s mysteries concerns Hess’s flight to Scotland on 10th May, 1941 to meet the Duke of Hamilton. MI5 files released by the National Archives last week helps to explain what was going on.

In the 1930s Hamilton was active in a far-right group called the Nordic League. In 1936 he went to Berlin and met Hess and other Nazi leaders.

After war was declared, Hamilton and other right-wing members of the aristocracy joined a secret society called the Right Club. Its leader was Archibald Ramsay. Other members included Lord Redesdale, Duke of Wellington, Duke of Westminster and the Marquess of Graham.

Unknown to the Right Club the organization had been infiltrated by a MI5 agent called Joan Miller. She was the mistress of Maxwell Knight, a former member of the British Fascisti and now head B5b, a MI5 unit that conducted the monitoring of political subversion. (It was Knight who recuited William Joyce - Lord Haw Haw - to MI5)

In 1940 the Nazi government was attempting to negotiate an end to the war via the Right Club (the organization was also involved in supplying Germany with state secrets). MI5 was opening their letters of members of the Right Club.

In September, 1940, Albrecht Haushofer, a close friend of Adolf Hitler, wrote to Hamilton: "You... may find some significance in the fact that I am able to ask you whether you could find time to have a talk to me somewhere on the outskirts of Europe, perhaps in Portugal." Haushofer also refered to people who the German government believed wanted an "German-English agreement." This included Samuel Hoare and Rab Butler.

The letter was intercepted by MI5 and Hamilton was persuaded to work as a double-agent. Hamilton agreed to go to Lisbon to meet Haushofer. Colonel Tar Robertson, head of MI5's double agent section, wrote in April 1941: "Hamilton at the beginning of the war and still is a member of the community which sincerely believes that Great Britain will be willing to make peace with Germany provided the present regime in Germany were superseded by some reasonable form of government... He is a slow-witted man, but at the same time he gets there in the end; and I feel that if he is properly schooled before leaving for Lisbon he could do a very useful job of work."

Robertson wanted Hamilton to extract "a good deal of information from Haushofer about how Germany is weathering the war". Another MI5 agent wrote that "presumably one fine day we shall be willing to listen to peace moves and I see no reason why we should not get advance knowledge if possible."

However, before Hamilton's trip to Portugal could take place, Hess decided to fly a Me 110 to Scotland with the intention of having a meeting Hamilton. On 10th May, 1941, Hess arrived in Scotland. Hess hoped that Hamilton would arrange for him to meet George VI. Hess believed he could persuade the king to sack Winston Churchill and to make peace with Germany in order to join forces against the Soviet Union.

Hess was kept in solitary confinement until he committed suicide on 17th August, 1987. (There is evidence he was murdered).

Churchill gave the orders that members of the Right Club should be arrested and interned. Several of its leaders were interned but all the aristocrats were allowed to go free. The government attempted to keep the story quiet but the New York Times broke the story claiming that Archibald Ramsay had been arrested because he had been spying for Germany.

The full story has yet to be told. A lot of the most important documents concerning this case are still being held back from the public.





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